Treatment response in antidepressant-naïve postherpetic neuralgia patients: double-blind, randomized trial

J Pain. 2005 Nov;6(11):741-6. doi: 10.1016/j.jpain.2005.07.001.


In 47 patients with postherpetic neuralgia (PHN) who had never had an adequate trial of any antidepressant, we performed a randomized, double-blind, parallel design trial comparing desipramine, amitriptyline, and fluoxetine. Patients were titrated to a maximum of 150 mg/day for desipramine and amitriptyline and 60 mg/day for fluoxetine over a 3-week period and then treated for an additional 3 weeks before tapering off study medication. A total of 38 subjects (81%) completed the entire trial. The modified intent-to-treat analysis of percent change in daily diary pain intensity scores showed no significant differences among the 3 drugs (ANOVA P = .120). Desipramine produced the greatest reduction in pain intensity (47%), followed by amitriptyline (38%) and fluoxetine (35%). Clinically meaningful pain relief (moderate or better) was significantly more likely with desipramine (12/15 patients) than with amitriptyline (9/17) or fluoxetine (5/15); chi(2)P = 0.036). The 11 subjects using opioids at study entry had smaller reductions in pain than those not using concomitant opioids. The fluoxetine group had the highest noncompletion rate (33%), with 1 subject hospitalized for hyponatremia. Although the magnitude of pain reduction and the category pain relief rating was not significantly different among the 3 drugs, the tricyclics desipramine and amitriptyline were well tolerated and provided clinically meaningful pain relief in 53% to 80% of subjects.

Perspective: Few clinical trials focus on patients who are naïve to an entire class of medication. In this randomized blinded trial, the tricyclic antidepressants desipramine and amitriptyline were compared to the serotonin-selective antidepressant fluoxetine. All 3 drugs reduced PHN pain, with desipramine providing satisfactory relief in 80% of those treated.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Amitriptyline / administration & dosage
  • Antidepressive Agents, Second-Generation / administration & dosage
  • Antidepressive Agents, Tricyclic / administration & dosage*
  • Desipramine / administration & dosage*
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Female
  • Fluoxetine / administration & dosage
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuralgia, Postherpetic / drug therapy*
  • Patient Dropouts
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Antidepressive Agents, Second-Generation
  • Antidepressive Agents, Tricyclic
  • Fluoxetine
  • Amitriptyline
  • Desipramine