Getting control of your nerve pain can be tough. The good news is that doctors have a lot of effective ways to treat it. These include medicines, like prescription pain relievers or anticonvulsants and antidepressants, as well as electrical stimulation and other techniques.
So if you have nerve pain, whether it's caused by cancer, HIV, shingles, or another condition, take hope. Here's a rundown of the prescription treatments that your doctor might recommend.
As with other subjective experiences, such as love, fear, or anger, there's no way to objectively measure pain. We asked Sean Mackey, MD, PhD, chief of the Pain Management Division and associate professor of anesthesia at Stanford University School of Medicine, to explain the unpleasant sensation we all feel in different ways.
There are several types of medication that help with nerve pain. However, not all of the ones listed here will necessarily work for your specific type of pain. The best choice for you depends on the cause of your pain, the severity, the potential side effects, and other factors.
Anticonvulsants. The name might sound alarming, but some of these drugs can help people with nerve pain. In fact, they're often considered a first choice. These drugs were originally developed for people with epilepsy to control seizures. It turned out that their effects on the nervous system could also help dull pain. Side effects may include drowsiness, dizziness, and nausea.
Keep in mind that not all anticonvulsants will help. So your doctor will choose medicines that have been shown in studies to work on nerve pain.
Antidepressants. Along with anticonvulsants, certain types of antidepressants can be the first choice for treating neuropathic pain. Nerve pain specialists often recommend two major types.
Tricyclic antidepressants have been used for decades. While they're not used as often today to treat depression, they can play an important role in controlling nerve pain symptoms. Many studies have shown that they can help. These drugs can cause side effects, like dizziness, constipation, blurred vision, and upset stomach. They might not be safe for people with certain conditions, like heart problems.
SNRIs (serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors) are a newer type of antidepressant that seem to help with nerve pain. In general, these drugs have fewer side effects than tricyclic antidepressants. They might be safer for some, especially older people with heart problems. However, they might not be as effective as tricyclics in tackling nerve pain.