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      Combination treatment of neuropathic pain: Danish expert recommendations based on a Delphi process

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          Current Danish treatment algorithms for pharmacological treatment of neuropathic pain (NeP) are tricyclic antidepressants (TCA), gabapentin and pregabalin as first-line treatment for the most common NeP conditions. Many patients have insufficient pain relief on monotherapy, but combination therapy had not been included in guidelines until recently. Based on clinical empiricism and scientific evidence, a Delphi consensus process provided a consolidated guidance on pharmacological combination treatment of NeP.


          A two-round virtual internet-based Delphi process with 6 Danish pain specialists was undertaken. In the first round, questions were answered individually and anonymously, whereas in the second round, the panel openly discussed first round’s summary of outcomes. Combinations of pharmacological pain treatments, that is, pregabalin/gabapentin, TCAs, serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, opioids, other antiepileptics and cutaneous patches, were assessed based on both scientific and clinical practice experiences. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) grading system was used for evidence rating.


          Combination of pregabalin/gabapentin with TCA is useful in patients who do not gain sufficient pain relief or tolerate either drug in high doses, or to improve sleep disturbance. Also, combination of pregabalin/gabapentin and SNRIs is reasonably well documented and experienced by some experts to result in sufficient pain relief and fewer side effects than monotherapy. Good evidence on efficacy was found for the combination of pregabalin/gabapentin or TCAs and opioids, which was also frequently used in clinical practice. The evidence for combining TCAs and SNRIs is insufficient, although sometimes used in clinical practice despite the risk of serotonin syndrome. For localized NeP, combination therapy with cutaneous patches should be considered. There was insufficient scientific evidence for any pharmacologic combination therapies with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors – as well as for other potential combinations.


          The study revealed that combination therapy is widely used in clinical practice and supported by some scientific evidence. However, further studies are needed.

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          Most cited references 20

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          Morphine, gabapentin, or their combination for neuropathic pain.

          The available drugs to treat neuropathic pain have incomplete efficacy and dose-limiting adverse effects. We compared the efficacy of a combination of gabapentin and morphine with that of each as a single agent in patients with painful diabetic neuropathy or postherpetic neuralgia. In this randomized, double-blind, active placebo-controlled, four-period crossover trial, patients received daily active placebo (lorazepam), sustained-release morphine, gabapentin, and a combination of gabapentin and morphine--each given orally for five weeks. The primary outcome measure was mean daily pain intensity in patients receiving a maximal tolerated dose; secondary outcomes included pain (rated according to the Short-Form McGill Pain Questionnaire), adverse effects, maximal tolerated doses, mood, and quality of life. Of 57 patients who underwent randomization (35 with diabetic neuropathy and 22 with postherpetic neuralgia), 41 completed the trial. Mean daily pain (on a scale from 0 to 10, with higher numbers indicating more severe pain) at a maximal tolerated dose of the study drug was as follows: 5.72 at baseline, 4.49 with placebo, 4.15 with gabapentin, 3.70 with morphine, and 3.06 with the gabapentin-morphine combination (P<0.05 for the combination vs. placebo, gabapentin, and morphine). Total scores on the Short-Form McGill Pain Questionnaire (on a scale from 0 to 45, with higher numbers indicating more severe pain) at a maximal tolerated dose were 14.4 with placebo, 10.7 with gabapentin, 10.7 with morphine, and 7.5 with the gabapentin-morphine combination (P<0.05 for the combination vs. placebo, gabapentin, and morphine). The maximal tolerated doses of morphine and gabapentin were lower (P<0.05) with the combination than for each drug as single agent. At the maximal tolerated dose, the gabapentin-morphine combination resulted in a higher frequency of constipation than gabapentin alone (P<0.05) and a higher frequency of dry mouth than morphine alone (P<0.05). Gabapentin and morphine combined achieved better analgesia at lower doses of each drug than either as a single agent, with constipation, sedation, and dry mouth as the most frequent adverse effects. Copyright 2005 Massachusetts Medical Society.
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            Nortriptyline and gabapentin, alone and in combination for neuropathic pain: a double-blind, randomised controlled crossover trial.

            Drugs for neuropathic pain have incomplete efficacy and dose-limiting side-effects when given as monotherapy. We assessed the efficacy and tolerability of combined nortriptyline and gabapentin compared with each drug given alone. In this double-blind, double-dummy, crossover trial, patients with diabetic polyneuropathy or postherpetic neuralgia, and who had a daily pain score of at least 4 (scale 0-10), were enrolled and treated at one study site in Canada between Nov 5, 2004, and Dec 13, 2007. 56 patients were randomised in a 1:1:1 ratio with a balanced Latin square design to receive one of three sequences of daily oral gabapentin, nortriptyline, and their combination. In sequence, a different drug was given to each randomised group in three treatment periods. During each 6-week treatment period, drug doses were titrated towards maximum tolerated dose. The primary outcome was mean daily pain at maximum tolerated dose. Analysis was by intention to treat. This trial is registered, number ISRCTN73178636. 45 patients completed all three treatment periods; 47 patients completed at least two treatment periods and were analysed for the primary outcome. Mean daily pain (0-10; numerical rating scale) was 5.4 (95% CI 5.0 to 5.8) at baseline, and at maximum tolerated dose, pain was 3.2 (2.5 to 3.8) for gabapentin, 2.9 (2.4 to 3.4) for nortriptyline, and 2.3 (1.8 to 2.8) for combination treatment. Pain with combination treatment was significantly lower than with gabapentin (-0.9, 95% CI -1.4 to -0.3, p=0.001) or nortriptyline alone (-0.6, 95% CI -1.1 to -0.1, p=0.02). At maximum tolerated dose, the most common adverse event was dry mouth, which was significantly less frequent in patients on gabapentin than on nortriptyline (p<0.0001) or combination treatment (p<0.0001). No serious adverse events were recorded for any patients during the trial. Combined gabapentin and nortriptyline seems to be more efficacious than either drug given alone for neuropathic pain, therefore we recommend use of this combination in patients who show a partial response to either drug given alone and seek additional pain relief. Future trials should compare other combinations to their respective monotherapies for treatment of such pain. Canadian Institutes of Health Research.
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              Combination pharmacotherapy for management of chronic pain: from bench to bedside.

              Chronic pain, a frequently neglected problem, is treated with different classes of drugs. Current agents are limited by incomplete efficacy and dose-limiting side-effects. Knowledge of pain processing implicates multiple concurrent mechanisms of nociceptive transmission and modulation. Thus, synergistic interactions of drug combinations might provide superior analgesia and fewer side-effects than monotherapy by targeting of multiple mechanisms. Several trials in neuropathic pain, fibromyalgia, arthritis, and other disorders have assessed various two-drug combinations containing antidepressants, anticonvulsants, non-steroidal anti-inflammatories, opioids, and other agents. In some trials, combined treatment showed superiority over monotherapy, but in others improved benefit or tolerability was not seen. Escalating efforts to develop novel analgesics that surpass the efficacy of current treatments have not yet been successful; therefore, combination therapy remains an important beneficial strategy. Methodological improvements in future translational research efforts are needed to maximise the potential of combination pharmacotherapy for pain.

                Author and article information

                J Pain Res
                J Pain Res
                Journal of Pain Research
                Journal of Pain Research
                Dove Medical Press
                26 June 2017
                : 10
                : 1467-1475
                [1 ]Department of Neurology, Odense University Hospital, Odense
                [2 ]Medicinsk Fælles Ambulatorium, Holbaek Hospital
                [3 ]Aleris-Hamlet Hospitaler Ringsted
                [4 ]The Private Pain Clinic, Herlev
                [5 ]Clinic Acute Orthopedic Surgical Anesthesia Section, Aalborg Universitetshospital, Aalborg
                [6 ]Department of Neurology, Aarhus University Hospital, Aarhus, Denmark
                Author notes
                Correspondence: Jakob Vormstrup Holbech, Department of Neurology, Odense University Hospital, Søndre Boulevard 29, DK-5000 Odense, Denmark, Email Holbech@ 123456dadlnet.dk
                © 2017 Holbech et al. This work is published and licensed by Dove Medical Press Limited

                The full terms of this license are available at https://www.dovepress.com/terms.php and incorporate the Creative Commons Attribution – Non Commercial (unported, v3.0) License ( http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/). By accessing the work you hereby accept the Terms. Non-commercial uses of the work are permitted without any further permission from Dove Medical Press Limited, provided the work is properly attributed.

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