Anticonvulsants for tinnitus

Tinnitus is the perception of sound or noise in the absence of external acoustic stimulation. It is a common and potentially distressing symptom for which no adequate therapy exists. The pathophysiology of tinnitus has been compared to phantom limb pain therefore anticonvulsant drugs have been proposed as a possible therapy.

This review includes seven studies (six low-quality and one high-quality) of four different anticonvulsants (gabapentin, carbamazepine, flunarizine and lamotrigine). We found that anticonvulsants do not have a beneficial effect in the treatment of tinnitus. Side effects of the anticonvulsants used were experienced by 18% of patients.

Authors' conclusions: 

Current evidence regarding the effectiveness of anticonvulsants in patients with tinnitus has significant risk of bias. There is no evidence from studies performed so far to show that anticonvulsants have a large positive effect in the treatment of tinnitus but a small effect (of doubtful clinical significance) has been demonstrated.

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Background: 

Tinnitus is the perception of sound or noise in the absence of an external or internal acoustic stimulation. It is a common and potentially distressing symptom for which no adequate therapy exists.

Objectives: 

To assess the effectiveness of anticonvulsants in patients with chronic tinnitus.

Search strategy: 

We searched the Cochrane Ear, Nose and Throat Disorders Group Specialised Register, CENTRAL (2010, Issue 2), MEDLINE, EMBASE, bibliographies and additional sources for published and unpublished trials. The date of the most recent search was 26 May 2010.

Selection criteria: 

We selected randomised controlled trials in patients with chronic tinnitus comparing orally administered anticonvulsants with placebo. The primary outcome was improvement in tinnitus measured with validated questionnaires. Secondary outcomes were improvement in tinnitus measured with self-assessment scores, improvement in global well-being or accompanying symptoms, and adverse drug effects.

Data collection and analysis: 

Three authors assessed risk of bias and extracted data independently.

Main results: 

Seven trials (453 patients) were included in this review. These studies investigated four different anticonvulsants: gabapentin, carbamazepine, lamotrigine and flunarizine. The risk of bias of most studies was 'high' or 'unclear'. Three studies included a validated questionnaire (primary outcome). None of them showed a significant positive effect of anticonvulsants. One study showed a significant negative effect of gabapentin compared to placebo with an increase in Tinnitus Questionnaire (TQ) score of 18.4 points (standardised mean difference (SMD) 0.82, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.07 to 1.58). A second study showed a positive, non-significant effect of gabapentin with a difference compared to placebo of 2.4 points on the Tinnitus Handicap Inventory (THI) (SMD -0.11, 95% CI -0.48 to 0.25). When the data from these two studies are pooled no effect of gabapentin is found (SMD 0.07, 95% CI -0.26 to 0.40). A third study reported no differences on the THI after treatment with gabapentin compared to placebo (exact numbers could not be extracted from the article).

A meta-analysis of 'any positive effect' (yes versus no) based on a self-assessment score (secondary outcome) showed a small favourable effect of anticonvulsants (RD 14%, 95% CI 6% to 22%). A meta-analysis of 'near or total eradication of tinnitus annoyance' showed no effect of anticonvulsants (risk difference (RD) 4%, 95% CI -2% to 11%). Side effects of the anticonvulsants used were experienced by 18% of patients.

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