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BACKGROUND: Duloxetine hydrochloride is a reuptake inhibitor of 5-hydroxytryptamine and norepinephrine used to treat depression, generalized anxiety disorder, neuropathic pain, and stress incontinence in women. We investigated the efficacy of duloxetine in painful diabetic neuropathy and fibromyalgia to allow comparison with other antidepressants. METHODS: We searched PubMed, EMBASE (via Ovid), and Cochrane CENTRAL up to June 2008 for randomised controlled trials using duloxetine to treat neuropathic pain. RESULTS: We identified six trials with 1,696 patients: 1,510 were treated with duloxetine and 706 with placebo. All patients had established baseline pain of at least moderate severity. Trial duration was 12 to 13 weeks. Three trials enrolled patients with painful diabetic neuropathy (PDN) and three enrolled patients with fibromyalgia. The number needed to treat (NNT) for at least 50% pain relief at 12 to 13 weeks with duloxetine 60 mg versus placebo (1,211 patients in the total comparison) was 5.8 (95% CI 4.5 to 8.4), and for duloxetine 120 mg (1,410 patients) was 5.7 (4.5 to 5.7). There was no difference in NNTs between PDN and fibromyalgia. With all doses of duloxetine combined (20/60/120 mg) there were fewer withdrawals for lack of efficacy than with placebo (number needed to treat to prevent one withdrawal 20 (13 to 42)), but more withdrawals due to adverse events (number needed to harm (NNH) 15 (11 to 25)). Nausea, somnolence, constipation, and reduced appetite were all more common with duloxetine than placebo (NNH values 6.3, 11, 11, and 18 respectively). The results for duloxetine are compared with published data for other antidepressants in neuropathic pain. CONCLUSION: Duloxetine is equally effective for the treatment of PDN and fibromyalgia, judged by the outcome of at least 50% pain relief over 12 weeks, and is well tolerated. The NNT of 6 for 50% pain relief suggests that this is likely to be a useful drug in these difficult-to-treat conditions, where typically only a minority of patients respond. Comparing duloxetine with antidepressants for pain relief in DPN shows inadequacies in the evidence for efficacy of antidepressants, which are currently recommended in PDN care pathways.

Original publication




Journal article


BMC Neurol

Publication Date





Adrenergic Uptake Inhibitors, Diabetic Neuropathies, Duloxetine Hydrochloride, Fibromyalgia, Humans, Pain, Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic, Thiophenes, Treatment Outcome