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Gabapentin for acute and chronic pain.

BACKGROUND: Anticonvulsant drugs have been used in the management of pain since the 1960s. The clinical impression is that they are useful for chronic neuropathic pain, especially when the pain is lancinating or burning.

OBJECTIVES: To evaluate the analgesic effectiveness and adverse effects of gabapentin for pain management in clinical practice.

SEARCH STRATEGY: Randomised trials of gabapentin in acute, chronic or cancer pain were identified by MEDLINE (1966-Nov 2004), EMBASE (1994-Nov 2004), SIGLE (1980-Jan 2004) and the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials (CENTRAL) (Cochrane Library Issue 4, 2004). Additional reports were identified from the reference list of the retrieved papers, and by contacting investigators. Date of most recent search: January 2004.

SELECTION CRITERIA: Randomised trials reporting the analgesic effects of gabapentin in patients, with subjective pain assessment as either the primary or a secondary outcome.

DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: Data were extracted by two independent reviewers, and trials were quality scored. Numbers-needed-to-treat (NNTs) were calculated, where possible, from dichotomous data for effectiveness, adverse effects and drug-related study withdrawal.

MAIN RESULTS: Fourteen reports describing 15 studies of gabapentin were considered eligible (1468 participants). One was a study of acute pain. The remainder included the following conditions: post-herpetic neuralgia (two studies), diabetic neuropathy (seven studies), a cancer related neuropathic pain (one study) phantom limb pain (one study), Guillain Barré syndrome (one study) , spinal chord injury pain (one study) and various neuropathic pains (one study). The study in acute post-operative pain (70 participants) showed no benefit for gabapentin compared to placebo for pain at rest. In chronic pain, the NNT for improvement in all trials with evaluable data is 4.3 (95%CI 3.5-5.7). Forty two percent of participants improved on gabapentin compared to 19% on placebo. The number needed to harm(NNH) for adverse events leading to withdrawal from a trial was not significant. Fourteen percent of participants withdrew from active arms compared to 10% in placebo arms. The NNH for minor harm was 3.7 (95% CI 2.4 to 5.4). The NNT for effective pain relief in diabetic neuropathy was 2.9 (95% CI 2.2 to 4.3) and for post herpetic neuralgia 3.9 (95% CI 3 to 5.7).

AUTHORS' CONCLUSIONS: There is evidence to show that gabapentin is effective in neuropathic pain. There is limited evidence to show that gabapentin is ineffective in acute pain.

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