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Amitriptyline for neuropathic pain and fibromyalgia in adults

Moore RA, Derry S, Aldington D, Cole P, Wiffen PJ
Published Online: 
12 December 2012

The review set out to examine how well amitriptyline worked in treating neuropathic pain or fibromyalgia, where the definition of worked involved both a high level of pain relief and the ability to take the tablets over a longer time without side effects being intolerable. There were no studies that could provide an answer that was trustworthy or reliable, because most studies were relatively old, and used methods or reported results that we now recognise as making benefits seem better than they are. This is disappointing, but we can still make useful comments about the drug.

Amitriptyline probably does not work in neuropathic pain associated with HIV or treatments for cancer. Amitriptyline probably does work in other types of neuropathic pain (painful diabetic neuropathy, postherpetic neuralgia, and post-stroke pain, and in fibromyalgia), though we cannot be certain of this. Our best guess is that amitriptyline provides pain relief in about 1 in 4 (25%) more people than does placebo, and about 1 in 4 (25%) more people than placebo report having at least one adverse event, probably not serious but disconcerting; we cannot trust either figure based on the information available.

The most important message is that amitriptyline probably does give really good pain relief to some patients with neuropathic pain or fibromyalgia, but only a minority of them; amitriptyline will not work for most people.