Prescription Medications and Treatments for Nerve Pain
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.
Why is back pain or a knee injury annoying to one person and sheer agony to another? Turns out, an individual's tolerance to pain is as unique as the person, and is shaped by some surprising biological factors, as well as some psychological factors that we can actually try to control.
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 include drowsiness, dizziness, and
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 to treat depression as often now, 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.
Using antidepressants for nerve pain can have an added benefit, considering
that chronic pain often coincides with depression. Chronic pain can make
a person depressed, and depression can often make the experience of chronic
pain seem worse. So these drugs might help improve your mood as well as ease
Of course, some people don't like the idea of taking antidepressants for
their nerve pain because they worry taking antidepressants implies that the
pain is just "in their heads." But that's not the case at all. It just happens
that these drugs work with both conditions.
Painkillers. For severe nerve pain, powerful opioid
painkillers can help. Studies have found that for many types of nerve pain,
they are as effective as anticonvulsants or antidepressants. Unlike other
treatments for nerve pain, they also work very quickly.
However, because of their side effects, many doctors only turn to these drugs
when other treatments haven't worked. Opioid painkillers can cause
constipation, stomach upset, and sedation. They also pose some risk of
addiction and abuse, so it's important to use them exactly as your doctor
Other painkillers -- like prescription doses of NSAIDs (nonsteroidal
anti-inflammatory drugs) -- might be helpful. But on the whole, those drugs
don't seem to work well with nerve pain.
Topical treatments. Painkilling gels and lidocaine patches are
another effective approach; you would apply them on a particularly painful area
of skin. These work best with small, localized spots of pain. The side effects
are minor and include skin irritation.
Combination treatments. Your doctor might recommend that you use one
or two of these treatments together -- an approach called combination therapy.
Many studies have shown that combining certain drugs -- often an anticonvulsant
and an antidepressant -- has a better effect on nerve pain than either