Implications and mechanism of action of gabapentin in neuropathic pain.
Postherpetic neuralgia (PHN) is a chronic and painful condition that may occur after a herpes zoster infection. The frequency of PHN after untreated zoster varies widely. Age is the most important risk factor for development of PHN. The condition occurs in an estimated 50% of patients older than 50 years. The pain of PHN can be severe and debilitating and is frequently associated with allodynia. Although in most patients pain remits within the first year, it may persist for a lifetime. Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs), topical agents, opioids, and gabapentin, a structural gamma-amino butyric acid (GABA) analogue, are the only agents that have demonstrated efficacy in randomized clinical trials for treatment of both the shooting and the burning form of pain associated with PHN. TCAs are among the most commonly used classes of agents for treating PHN and are effective in a significant proportion of patients. However, various adverse events can limit treatment. These side effects tend to be more acute in the elderly, the population most likely to suffer from PHN. Topical agents have led to mild to moderate improvement in patients with PHN but are usually ineffective as monotherapy for this condition. Until recently, carbamazepine was the only antiepileptic drug evaluated for the treatment of PHN. Over the past few years, however, gabapentin has received increasing attention as a useful treatment for neuropathic pain. Gabapentin lacks significant drug-drug interactions and has a favorable safety profile, which makes it particularly useful for treatment of PHN.