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Amitriptyline for postherpetic neuralgia (PHN) in adults

Evidence Summaries

Level of Evidence = C

Amitriptyline may be useful in postherpetic neuralgia.The level of evidence is downgraded by study quality and imprecise results.

A Cochrane review 1 included 17 studies with 1342 participants in seven neuropathic pain conditions. Five studies evaluated amitriptyline in postherpetic neuralgia (PHN); none involved more than 62 participants. The duration of the studies varied from five to eight weeks. All studies were active controlled, comparing amitriptyline (25 to 200 mg daily) with fluphenazine, lorazepam, desipramine, fluoxetine, maprotiline, and nortriptyline. Two studies also included a placebo treatment arm. The estimate of exposure to interventions was 227 for amitriptyline, 53 to placebo, and 148 to other interventions. There was no convincing evidence that amitriptyline at various daily doses was better than nortriptyline, maprotiline, desipramine, or fluoxetine. Two studies pointed to amitriptyline being better than placebo, but based on only 84 participants in the comparison. Amitriptyline was possibly better than lorazepam, but not desipramine, maprotiline, or nortriptyline. More participants experienced at least one adverse event; 55% of participants taking amitriptyline and 36% taking placebo. The RR was 1.5 (95% CI) 1.3 to 1.8) and the number needed to treat for an additional harmful outcome was 5.2 (3.6 to 9.1) (low quality evidence). Serious adverse events were rare.

Clinical comment: Amitriptyline has been a first-line treatment for neuropathic pain for many years. The fact that there is no supportive unbiased evidence for a beneficial effect has to be balanced against decades of successful treatment in many people with neuropathic pain. There is no good evidence of a lack of effect but the treatment effect may be overestimated. Amitriptyline should continue to be used as part of the treatment of neuropathic pain, but only a minority of people will achieve satisfactory pain relief. Limited information suggests that failure with one antidepressant does not mean failure with all.


1. Moore RA, Derry S, Aldington D et al. Amitriptyline for neuropathic pain in adults. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2015;(7):CD008242.  [PMID:26146793]

Copyright © 2017 Duodecim Medical Publications Limited.
Amitriptyline for postherpetic neuralgia (PHN) in adults is a sample topic from the Evidence-Based Medicine Guidelines.

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"Amitriptyline for Postherpetic Neuralgia (PHN) in Adults." Evidence-Based Medicine Guidelines, Duodecim Medical Publications Limited, 2019. Evidence Central, evidence.unboundmedicine.com/evidence/view/EBMG/453947/all/Amitriptyline_for_postherpetic_neuralgia__PHN__in_adults.
Amitriptyline for postherpetic neuralgia (PHN) in adults. Evidence-Based Medicine Guidelines. Duodecim Medical Publications Limited; 2019. https://evidence.unboundmedicine.com/evidence/view/EBMG/453947/all/Amitriptyline_for_postherpetic_neuralgia__PHN__in_adults. Accessed March 23, 2019.
Amitriptyline for postherpetic neuralgia (PHN) in adults. (2019). In Evidence-Based Medicine Guidelines. Available from https://evidence.unboundmedicine.com/evidence/view/EBMG/453947/all/Amitriptyline_for_postherpetic_neuralgia__PHN__in_adults
Amitriptyline for Postherpetic Neuralgia (PHN) in Adults [Internet]. In: Evidence-Based Medicine Guidelines. Duodecim Medical Publications Limited; 2019. [cited 2019 March 23]. Available from: https://evidence.unboundmedicine.com/evidence/view/EBMG/453947/all/Amitriptyline_for_postherpetic_neuralgia__PHN__in_adults.
* Article titles in AMA citation format should be in sentence-case
TY - ELEC T1 - Amitriptyline for postherpetic neuralgia (PHN) in adults ID - 453947 BT - Evidence-Based Medicine Guidelines UR - https://evidence.unboundmedicine.com/evidence/view/EBMG/453947/all/Amitriptyline_for_postherpetic_neuralgia__PHN__in_adults PB - Duodecim Medical Publications Limited DB - Evidence Central DP - Unbound Medicine ER -