A new treatment that uses two old drugs together may offer hope of relief to millions of North Americans who suffer neuropathic pain.
A type of chronic stabbing, burning pain, neuropathic pain is often a mystery to health care workers. But it is a real and debilitating illness for patients who report being unable to work, sleep or concentrate.
The causes are hard to diagnose, but neuropathic pain is sometimes associated with shingles or side effects from diabetes or cancer therapy.
“It was like an electric shock going through my leg. It would come anywhere or any time,” said Isabel Abbott, a Beaton, Ont. resident with shingles who suffers from neuropathic pain.
While researchers constantly search for a new ways to treat this condition, a Canadian doctor tried combining two old ones.
“There’s a real difference between the combination than with either of these single agents,” said Dr. Ian Gilron, an anesthesiologist at Queen’s University in Ontario.
Gilron studied using painkillers morphine and gabapentin in patients with diabetes or shingles-related pain.
On their own, each drug reduced pain by about one-quarter or one-third.
Used together, they worked simultaneously on different areas of the brain, and reduced neuropathic pain by 45 per cent.
In addition, patients didn’t require as much medication to get an effect.
“You could use less of each drug and get better pain control with lower doses,” Gilron said.
The results of Gilron’s study will be published Thursday in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Dr. Angela Mailis, a pain specialist at Toronto Western Hospital, suggested people with neuropathic pain ask their doctors if this new drug combo might help them.
After four years in pain, Abbott says the treatment has been a godsend. “I walk better,” she said, adding, “It’s nice not to have to live with the pain.”
The next step is to study whether a similar approach can work for other types of chronic pain, such as the types associated with stroke, cancer treatment and back trouble.