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Oxycodone May Reduce Shingles Pain

Small study finds painkiller offered relief, but constipation was problem for some

FRIDAY, April 10 (HealthDay News) -- A new study finds oxycodone, often known as OxyContin, successfully reduces the sometimes excruciating pain of shingles.

Shingles, an often stress-related condition resulting from the same virus that causes chicken pox, causes pain, blisters, rash and flu-like symptoms that antiviral medications usually help alleviate within a month. However, if the pain component is not effectively treated during the course of the illness, the patient has a greater chance of the pain lasting months or even years after the other symptoms have subsided, the study authors noted.

The long-term pain comes from the varicella zoster virus damaging nerves during the infection period. The condition, called postherpetic neuralgia, affects up to a quarter of shingles patients and can cause shooting or burning pain, an electric shock feeling in the body or skin highly sensitive to touch.

"For some patients, even the light touch of a Q-tip on their skin is excruciating," study leader Robert Dworkin, a pain expert with the University of Rochester Medical Center, said in a school news release.

In a study of 87 people with moderate to severe shingles pain, those given oxycodone were at least twice as likely to have their pain reduced by a minimum of 30 percent compared with those taking a placebo. However, constipation -- a common side effect of oxycodone -- forced nearly a third of the study participants on that medication to drop out of the trial.

The researchers also tested gabapentin, a painkiller that like oxycodone is used to lessen pain associated with nerve damage, on the same study group, but that medication did not prove effective.

The findings are in the April issue of Pain.

Shingles, which can be had only by people who have had chicken pox, affects up to 30 percent of the population, with the odds increasing to 50 percent for people older than 85, according to the study.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke has more about shingles.

-- Kevin McKeever

SOURCE: University of Rochester Medical Center, news release, March 30, 2009

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