Neuropathic Pain: Principles of Diagnosis and Treatment

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Abstract

Neuropathic pain is caused by disease or injury of the nervous system and includes various chronic conditions that, together, affect up to 8% of the population. A substantial body of neuropathic pain research points to several important contributory mechanisms including aberrant ectopic activity in nociceptive nerves, peripheral and central sensitization, impaired inhibitory modulation, and pathological activation of microglia. Clinical evaluation of neuropathic pain requires a thorough history and physical examination to identify characteristic signs and symptoms. In many cases, other laboratory investigations and clinical neurophysiological testing may help identify the underlying etiology and guide treatment selection. Available treatments essentially provide only symptomatic relief and may include nonpharmacological, pharmacological, and interventional therapies. Most extensive evidence is available for pharmacological treatment, and currently recommended first-line treatments include antidepressants (tricyclic agents and serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors) and anticonvulsants (gabapentin and pregabalin). Individualized multidisciplinary patient care is facilitated by careful consideration of pain-related disability (eg, depression and occupational dysfunction) as well as patient education; repeat follow-up and strategic referral to appropriate medical/surgical subspecialties; and physical and psychological therapies. In the near future, continued preclinical and clinical research and development are expected to lead to further advancements in the diagnosis and treatment of neuropathic pain.

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