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Prescription Medicines for Nerve Pain continued...

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 your discomfort.

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 recommends.

    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 medications alone.

 

Three Tips for Taking Nerve Pain Medication

  • Watch out for interactions. Before you start taking a new medicine, make sure your doctor knows about every other prescription drug, OTC medicine, supplement, and vitamin you use. You might want to write them all down and bring in the list to your appointment -- or even bring the pill bottles with you instead.
  • Always follow your doctor's instructions for taking a new medicine. Make sure you understand how often you take it, how much you take, what time of day you should take it, and whether you should take it with or without food. Never stop using a prescription medicine without talking to your doctor first.
  • Don't ignore side effects. Talk to your doctor about them. He or she might be able to alter the dose or change the medicine to resolve the problem.

Understanding Nerve Pain

See the common causes, symptoms, and treatments.
View slideshow