Anticonvulsants, also known as antiepileptic drugs, are a class of medications that are primarily used to treat seizures in people with epilepsy. They work by stabilizing the electrical activity in the brain and preventing seizures. However, some of these drugs have also been found to be effective in managing certain types of chronic pain, such as neuropathic pain, which is caused by damage or dysfunction of the nervous system.
How Anticonvulsants Work for Pain
Anticonvulsants are thought to work for chronic pain by stabilizing abnormal electrical activity in the nerves, which can reduce pain signals being sent to the brain. Some of them also work by modifying the activity of neurotransmitters, the chemical messengers in the brain that are involved in pain perception.
Examples of Anticonvulsants
Examples of anticonvulsants that are used to treat chronic pain include:
- Gabapentin (Neurontin)
- Pregabalin (Lyrica)
- Carbamazepine (Tegretol)
- Lamotrigine (Lamictal)
- Topiramate (Topamax)
Anticonvulsants are commonly used to manage chronic back pain caused by conditions such as radiculopathy, postherpetic neuralgia, and spinal cord injury. They are also sometimes used to help manage chronic pain caused by fibromyalgia, diabetic neuropathy, and other conditions.
Side Effects of Anticonvulsants
Like any medication, anticonvulsants also have side effects, some of them include:
- Drowsiness and sedation
- Nausea and vomiting
- Diarrhea or constipation
It is important to speak to your healthcare provider to see if anticonvulsant medications are right for you
Who should avoid taking anticonvulsants?
Anticonvulsants can be an effective treatment for chronic pain, but there are certain populations who should avoid taking them, or do so with caution.
- Pregnant women: Some anticonvulsants, such as valproate, can cause birth defects or other pregnancy complications.
- Children: The safety and efficacy of anticonvulsants in children for pain management have not been well established.
- People with liver or kidney problems: Anticonvulsants are metabolized by the liver and excreted by the kidneys, so people with liver or kidney problems may not be able to metabolize the drugs effectively.
- People with a history of depression or suicidal thoughts: Anticonvulsants have been associated with an increased risk of depression and suicidal thoughts in some patients.
- People with a history of bone marrow problems: Some anticonvulsants, such as phenytoin, can cause bone marrow problems.
It’s important to discuss the risks and benefits of using anticonvulsants for pain management with a doctor, who can determine if they are appropriate for a specific patient.