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Carbamazepine for chronic neuropathic pain and fibromyalgia in adults

Wiffen PJ, Derry S, Moore R, Kalso EA
Published Online: 
10 April 2014

Neuropathic pain is pain coming from damaged nerves. It is different from pain messages carried along healthy nerves from damaged tissue (a fall, or cut, or arthritic knee). Neuropathic pain is treated by different medicines than pain from damaged tissue. Medicines like paracetamol or ibuprofen are not effective in neuropathic pain, while medicines that are sometimes used to treat depression or epilepsy can be very effective in some people. Our understanding of fibromyalgia (a condition of persistent, widespread pain and tenderness, sleep problems, and fatigue) is lacking, but fibromyalgia can respond to the same medicines as neuropathic pain.

Carbamazepine was developed to treat epilepsy, but it is now used to treat various forms of chronic pain. We performed searches (up to February 2014) to look for clinical trials where carbamazepine was used to treat neuropathic pain or fibromyalgia. We found 10 studies involving 418 people involved in testing carbamazepine. Studies were not generally of very good quality. Most were very small, as well as of short duration. Studies lasting only one or two weeks are unhelpful when pain can last for years.

There was not enough good quality evidence to say how well carbamazepine worked in any neuropathic pain condition. Pooling four small studies showed that it was better than placebo, but the result cannot be relied upon. There was not enough information from these studies to make any reliable comment on adverse events or harm.

Carbamazepine is probably helpful for some people with chronic neuropathic pain. It is not possible to know beforehand who will benefit and who will not.