November 20, 2001
By JOHN O'NEIL
Pain caused by problems in the nervous system, called neuropathic pain, is often difficult to treat. But a new study published this month in the journal Neurology found that the severity of the pain was reduced significantly among patients taking an antidepressant called bupropion.
The standard treatment for neuropathic pain in recent years has been with an older class of antidepressants called tricyclics. The ability of the drugs to help does not mean that neuropathic pain is caused by depression; the antidepressants can ease the pain because they act on the type of nerve that causes it.
The new study was conducted by researchers at the University of Arizona and supported in part by GlaxoSmithKline, which markets bupropion under the name Wellbutrin. In the study, 41 patients with neuropathic pain, but not depression, were given either bupropion or a placebo once a week. After six weeks, they were switched to the other pill.
At the end of the experiment, 71 percent of the patients reported that their pain decreased on bupropion, compared with 10 percent for the placebo. About a third of patients said their condition was "much improved" by bupropion.
The researchers reported several
side effects that they described as mild, including dry mouth, insomnia
and headache. But they said that bupropion, unlike tricyclic antidepressants,
did not appear to pose the threat of causing irregular heartbeats in cardiac
Copyright 2001 The New York Times Company