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‘Little evidence’ whether or not most antidepressants work for chronic pain

Antidepressants commonly used to treat chronic pain lack evidence as to whether or not they work, researchers have said, declaring the situation a global public health concern.

Chronic pain, typically defined as pain lasting three months or more, is a widespread problem affecting up to one in three people, with conditions ranging from osteoarthritis to fibromyalgia.

While exercise is often recommended, this is difficult for some patients, while there are concerns that opioids and other painkillers such as aspirin and paracetamol could do more harm than good.

Increasing numbers of patients are prescribed antidepressants to treat their pain, with hundreds of thousands in the UK estimated to be taking amitriptyline. Antidepressants affect chemicals known as neurotransmitters, which is how they are thought to relieve pain.

But a new Cochrane review, led by Prof Tamar Pincus, professor in health psychology at the University of Southampton, has revealed there is little evidence whether or not amitriptyline and many other common antidepressants work when it comes to tackling chronic pain.

“The fact that we don’t find evidence whether it works or not, is not the same as finding evidence that it doesn’t work,” she said. “We don’t know. The studies simply are not good enough.”

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Source: The Guardian, 10 May 2023


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