BACKGROUND: Gabapentin is commonly used to treat neuropathic pain (pain due to nerve damage). This review updates a review published in 2014, and previous reviews published in 2011, 2005 and 2000.
OBJECTIVES: To assess the analgesic efficacy and adverse effects of gabapentin in chronic neuropathic pain in adults.
SEARCH METHODS: For this update we searched CENTRAL), MEDLINE, and Embase for randomised controlled trials from January 2014 to January 2017. We also searched the reference lists of retrieved studies and reviews, and online clinical trials registries.
SELECTION CRITERIA: We included randomised, double-blind trials of two weeks' duration or longer, comparing gabapentin (any route of administration) with placebo or another active treatment for neuropathic pain, with participant-reported pain assessment.
DATA COLLECTION AND ANALYSIS: Two review authors independently extracted data and assessed trial quality and potential bias. Primary outcomes were participants with substantial pain relief (at least 50% pain relief over baseline or very much improved on Patient Global Impression of Change scale (PGIC)), or moderate pain relief (at least 30% pain relief over baseline or much or very much improved on PGIC). We performed a pooled analysis for any substantial or moderate benefit. Where pooled analysis was possible, we used dichotomous data to calculate risk ratio (RR) and number needed to treat for an additional beneficial outcome (NNT) or harmful outcome (NNH). We assessed the quality of the evidence using GRADE and created 'Summary of findings' tables.
MAIN RESULTS: We included four new studies (530 participants), and excluded three previously included studies (126 participants). In all, 37 studies provided information on 5914 participants. Most studies used oral gabapentin or gabapentin encarbil at doses of 1200 mg or more daily in different neuropathic pain conditions, predominantly postherpetic neuralgia and painful diabetic neuropathy. Study duration was typically four to 12 weeks. Not all studies reported important outcomes of interest. High risk of bias occurred mainly due to small size (especially in cross-over studies), and handling of data after study withdrawal.In postherpetic neuralgia, more participants (32%) had substantial benefit (at least 50% pain relief or PGIC very much improved) with gabapentin at 1200 mg daily or greater than with placebo (17%) (RR 1.8 (95% CI 1.5 to 2.1); NNT 6.7 (5.4 to 8.7); 8 studies, 2260 participants, moderate-quality evidence). More participants (46%) had moderate benefit (at least 30% pain relief or PGIC much or very much improved) with gabapentin at 1200 mg daily or greater than with placebo (25%) (RR 1.8 (95% CI 1.6 to 2.0); NNT 4.8 (4.1 to 6.0); 8 studies, 2260 participants, moderate-quality evidence).In painful diabetic neuropathy, more participants (38%) had substantial benefit (at least 50% pain relief or PGIC very much improved) with gabapentin at 1200 mg daily or greater than with placebo (21%) (RR 1.9 (95% CI 1.5 to 2.3); NNT 5.9 (4.6 to 8.3); 6 studies, 1277 participants, moderate-quality evidence). More participants (52%) had moderate benefit (at least 30% pain relief or PGIC much or very much improved) with gabapentin at 1200 mg daily or greater than with placebo (37%) (RR 1.4 (95% CI 1.3 to 1.6); NNT 6.6 (4.9 to 9.9); 7 studies, 1439 participants, moderate-quality evidence).For all conditions combined, adverse event withdrawals were more common with gabapentin (11%) than with placebo (8.2%) (RR 1.4 (95% CI 1.1 to 1.7); NNH 30 (20 to 65); 22 studies, 4346 participants, high-quality evidence). Serious adverse events were no more common with gabapentin (3.2%) than with placebo (2.8%) (RR 1.2 (95% CI 0.8 to 1.7); 19 studies, 3948 participants, moderate-quality evidence); there were eight deaths (very low-quality evidence). Participants experiencing at least one adverse event were more common with gabapentin (63%) than with placebo (49%) (RR 1.3 (95% CI 1.2 to 1.4); NNH 7.5 (6.1 to 9.6); 18 studies, 4279 participants, moderate-quality evidence). Individual adverse events occurred significantly more often with gabapentin. Participants taking gabapentin experienced dizziness (19%), somnolence (14%), peripheral oedema (7%), and gait disturbance (14%).
AUTHORS' CONCLUSIONS: Gabapentin at doses of 1800 mg to 3600 mg daily (1200 mg to 3600 mg gabapentin encarbil) can provide good levels of pain relief to some people with postherpetic neuralgia and peripheral diabetic neuropathy. Evidence for other types of neuropathic pain is very limited. The outcome of at least 50% pain intensity reduction is regarded as a useful outcome of treatment by patients, and the achievement of this degree of pain relief is associated with important beneficial effects on sleep interference, fatigue, and depression, as well as quality of life, function, and work. Around 3 or 4 out of 10 participants achieved this degree of pain relief with gabapentin, compared with 1 or 2 out of 10 for placebo. Over half of those treated with gabapentin will not have worthwhile pain relief but may experience adverse events. Conclusions have not changed since the previous update of this review.
Unfortunately, this medication has been abused in our state where opiate abuse is rampant. With that in mind, I think the clinical benefit outweighs the negative aspect of abuse if you choose your patients carefully.
A rigorous and reassuring reaffirmation that gabapentin can provide significant amelioration of neuropathic pain in many but not all patients, with relatively few major side effects. It is essential, however, that the daily dose is progressively incremented to at least 1800 mg before concluding it is ineffective.
Gabapentin has been used for two decades for neuropathic pain. The conclusions are well known to clinicians. While important, I don't think there is much new here.
Confirms prior findings.
Gabapentin seems to have a 50% chance of helping with some adverse events. To me, those odds seem worthwhile.
I prescribe a fair amount of gabapentin so it is good to see the NNT and NNH.
We all try everything for this very difficult complication of diabetes. Nice to have confirmation that gabapentin is likely more often than not to be useful.
This update of the previous review confirms the conclusion that gabapentin is helpful in over half of the participants tested. We still don't know how to predict a response. A therapeutic trial remains the clinician's best option.
As a hospitalist, this has relevance as we try to curb opioid prescribing. The impact gabapentin has on neuropathic pain is significant and is supported by quality literature, but seems to require doses higher than what is commonly used.