Background: New drug treatments, clinical trials, and standards of quality for assessment of evidence justify an update of evidence-based recommendations for the pharmacological treatment of neuropathic pain. Using the Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development, and Evaluation (GRADE), we revised the Special Interest Group on Neuropathic Pain (NeuPSIG) recommendations for the pharmacotherapy of neuropathic pain based on the results of a systematic review and meta-analysis.
Methods: Between April, 2013, and January, 2014, NeuPSIG of the International Association for the Study of Pain did a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised, double-blind studies of oral and topical pharmacotherapy for neuropathic pain, including studies published in peer-reviewed journals since January, 1966, and unpublished trials retrieved from ClinicalTrials.gov and websites of pharmaceutical companies. We used number needed to treat (NNT) for 50% pain relief as a primary measure and assessed publication bias; NNT was calculated with the fixed-effects Mantel-Haenszel method.
Findings: 229 studies were included in the meta-analysis. Analysis of publication bias suggested a 10% overstatement of treatment effects. Studies published in peer-reviewed journals reported greater effects than did unpublished studies (r(2) 9·3%, p=0·009). Trial outcomes were generally modest: in particular, combined NNTs were 6·4 (95% CI 5·2-8·4) for serotonin-noradrenaline reuptake inhibitors, mainly including duloxetine (nine of 14 studies); 7·7 (6·5-9·4) for pregabalin; 7·2 (5·9-9·21) for gabapentin, including gabapentin extended release and enacarbil; and 10·6 (7·4-19·0) for capsaicin high-concentration patches. NNTs were lower for tricyclic antidepressants, strong opioids, tramadol, and botulinum toxin A, and undetermined for lidocaine patches. Based on GRADE, final quality of evidence was moderate or high for all treatments apart from lidocaine patches; tolerability and safety, and values and preferences were higher for topical drugs; and cost was lower for tricyclic antidepressants and tramadol. These findings permitted a strong recommendation for use and proposal as first-line treatment in neuropathic pain for tricyclic antidepressants, serotonin-noradrenaline reuptake inhibitors, pregabalin, and gabapentin; a weak recommendation for use and proposal as second line for lidocaine patches, capsaicin high-concentration patches, and tramadol; and a weak recommendation for use and proposal as third line for strong opioids and botulinum toxin A. Topical agents and botulinum toxin A are recommended for peripheral neuropathic pain only.
Interpretation: Our results support a revision of the NeuPSIG recommendations for the pharmacotherapy of neuropathic pain. Inadequate response to drug treatments constitutes a substantial unmet need in patients with neuropathic pain. Modest efficacy, large placebo responses, heterogeneous diagnostic criteria, and poor phenotypic profiling probably account for moderate trial outcomes and should be taken into account in future studies.
Funding: NeuPSIG of the International Association for the Study of Pain.
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