A new drug may offer relief to people with neuropathic pain caused by shingles and other conditions
Neuropathic (nerve) pain doesn’t respond to commonly-used painkillers such as paracetamol and ibuprofen because it is caused by nerve damage or sensitivity. These problems can be caused in different ways. Long-lasting nerve pain can be a complication of shingles, and can last for months after the shingles rash has disappeared. Chronic sciatica, lupus and diabetes and accidents can also cause long-term neuropathic pain.
A new drug developed by scientists at Tel Aviv University works by stabilising the body’s potassium channels and keeping them open, so allowing potassium to pass through them. “Potassium is integral to nerve exciteability,” explained Dr Mick Serpell, Chair of the Neuropathic Pain Special Interest Group at the British Pain Society. “If you can keep the channels open, it will quieten down the neuronal exciteability.” By doing this, the drug reduces or prevents pain signals.
So far, the drug has been tested on rats in laboratory conditions, and was found to protect against pain and epilepsy (which is also affected by poorly-functioning potassium pathways). The scientists found that BL-7050 was able to ‘calm’ the neurons and inhibit the pain pathways.
BL-7070 is expected to go into the first stage of clinical trials soon, but it may still be a while before it becomes available; trials can take years to complete before a drug can be licensed. However there may be a quicker route to relieving pain.
A study carried out at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore suggests that changing the way we think about pain may help us sleep better, and potentially keep our pain levels under control. According to study leader Luis Buenaver, an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioural sciences at the university, approximately 80 per cent of people who suffer with chronic pain have disturbed sleep. Previous studies have shown that these people are more sensitive to pain. He also said that people who focus frequently on their pain and experience more negative thoughts about it report having ‘more debilitating pain’.
Over 200 people with serious jaw and face pain, thought often to be linked to stress, took part in the study. They completed questionnaires about their quality of sleep, depression, pain levels and their emotional feelings about pain, such as whether they thought about it often and exaggerated it.
“We have found that people who ruminate about their pain and have more negative thoughts about their pain don’t sleep as well and the result is they feel more pain,” said Buenaver.
“If cognitive behavioural therapy can help people change the way they think about their pain, they might end that vicious cycle and feel better without sleeping pills or pain medicine. “It may sound simple, but you can change the way you feel by changing the way you think.” Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) aims to help people deal with their problems by doing just that – changing the way they think about themselves and the world around them. Your GP may be able to refer you to someone trained in CBT, such as a psychologist or nurse, either through the NHS or privately.
The study on sleep and pain was published in the journal Pain.
The British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Therapies - www.babcp.com
NHS Choices - www.nhs.uk
Mental Health Foundation www.mentalhealth.org.uk
Royal College of Psychiatrists - www.rcpsych.ac.uk