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Qutenza (Capsaicin) Patch Approved for Postherpetic Neuralgia


A prescription skin patch called Qutenza, which contains a synthetic form of capsaicin, has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for treatment of pain due to postherpetic neuralgia (PHN), a condition that develops in some people who have had shingles. Capsaicin is the substance found in chili peppers and is frequently used in creams to treat various types of painful conditions, including shingles and arthritis.

The annual incidence of shingles is estimated to be about 1 million cases, with a lifetime prevalence of about 25 percent, according to the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases. A study published in the Internet Journal of Pain, Symptom Control and Palliative Care (2006) reports that postherpetic neuralgia affects approximately 500,000 people in the United States each year.

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Postherpetic neuralgia pain can persist for years and is often resistant to treatment. The pain is the result of damaged nerve fibers that send exaggerated signals of pain from the skin to the brain. Current treatments include antidepressants (which can impact how your body interprets pain), anticonvulsants (which can stabilize electrical activity caused by damaged nerves), injected steroids, and narcotics.

The Qutenza 8 percent patch delivers synthetic capsaicin to the area where the nerve pain is felt. The patch was approved for treatment of postherpetic neuralgia because clinical studies showed that the patch reduced the nerve pain associated with the disease for up to 12 weeks when patients used as many as four Qutenza patches for one hour. The medication is non-narcotic, is not associated with drowsiness, and is unlikely to interact with other drugs. The most common side effects reported were redness at the application site, an increase in blood pressure, and itchiness.

The makers of Qutenza, NeurogesX Inc., report that the postherpetic neuralgia treatment is the first and only prescription strength capsaicin product on the market. The patch, which should be applied by a healthcare professional, will be available in the United States in the first quarter of 2010.

Flossos A, Kostakov C. The Internet Journal of Pain, Symptom Control and Palliative Care 2006; 4(2)
National Foundation for Infectious Diseases
NeurogesX Inc. news release and website