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Antidepressants Might Help with Pain Post Surgery

Update Date: Aug 30, 2014 09:39 AM EDT

Postoperative pain can be difficult to deal with. In a new systematic review, a team of researchers examined clinical trials that focused on treating acute and chronic pain after surgery with antidepressants. The researchers concluded that antidepressants have the potential of becoming an effective treatment option for some patients; however, they stressed that more trials are needed before this treatment option can be recommended.

"For the past 50 years, it's been observed that antidepressants for other chronic pain conditions relieve pain independently of their effect on depression," Dr. Ian Gilron, a professor and director of clinical pain research in the Department of Anesthesiology, who also works as an attending anesthesiologist at Kingston General Hospital (KGH), said according to the press release. "Even with the best available medicines, there are still many people who experience postoperative pain. Reviewing the use of antidepressants to manage this pain was definitely an opportunity to be seized."

For this study, lead researcher, Dr. Gilron and his seven colleagues reviewed the results of 15 trials. The team wanted to see if antidepressants can have similar effects on postoperative pain as common painkillers, such as opioids acetaminophen and local anesthetics do. The trials were carefully selected from a sample of 1,350 records based on patients' pain during movement and at rest, side effects of antidepressants, and other outcomes of using antidepressants to treat pain.

Overall, the team found that in roughly more than 50 percent of the trials, the surgical patients experienced improvements in their pain levels after taking antidepressants. The team concluded that the results hint at the possibility of using antidepressants. However, more studies will need to confirm that link.

"We can conclude from this research review that, while it's premature to formally recommend these drugs be prescribed for pain, more definitive studies on these medications are necessary," Dr. Gilron.

The study, "Antidepressant drugs for prevention of acute and chronic postsurgical pain: early evidence and recommended future directions," was published in the journal, Anesthesiology.

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