Combination analgesia in 2005—a rational approach: focus on paracetamol–tramadol
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- Schug, S.A. Clin Rheumatol (2006) 25: 16. doi:10.1007/s10067-006-0202-9
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A multimodal (or balanced) approach to anaesthesia is a familiar concept that offers important benefits in the management of both acute and chronic pain. Rational combinations of analgesic agents with different mechanisms of action can achieve improved efficacy and/or tolerability and safety compared with equianalgesic doses of the individual drugs. Combining different agents also enhances efficacy in complex pain states that involve multiple causes. Combinations of paracetamol plus a weak opioid agent are widely used. One such combination, paracetamol plus tramadol, exploits the well-established complementary pharmacokinetics and mechanisms of action of these two drugs. This combination has demonstrated genuine synergy in animal studies and also combines paracetamol’s rapid onset of efficacy with tramadol’s prolonged analgesic effect. Numerous studies have confirmed the efficacy and tolerability of paracetamol plus tramadol in both acute and chronic pain. As a single-dose treatment for acute post-operative pain, this combination delivers rapid and sustained pain relief that is greater than either agent alone. There is also extensive evidence for efficacy in the long-term management of chronic pain conditions, including osteoarthritis, low back pain and fibromyalgia. In the setting of chronic pain, paracetamol plus tramadol has shown sustained efficacy, safety and tolerability for up to 2 years without the development of tolerance. The efficacy of this combination has been demonstrated as well in respect to reduction of pain intensity and, more importantly, with regard to improvement of function and quality of life and the reduction of disability. Comparative trials have shown that paracetamol plus tramadol has comparable efficacy to paracetamol plus codeine, but with reduced somnolence and constipation compared with the codeine combination. The paracetamol plus tramadol combination is also free of organ toxicity associated with selective and non-selective non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Hence, paracetamol plus tramadol offers an effective and well-tolerated alternative to anti-inflammatory drugs or other paracetamol plus weak opioid combinations.