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Topical phenytoin can act as an analgesic in chronic pain, but it is unclear if topical phenytoin gives rise to systemic side effects. Therefore, the aim of this study is: 1) to evaluate safety in chronic pain patients who used topical phenytoin up to 30% applied daily on intact skin and mucous membrane, through determining phenytoin plasma levels; and 2) to elaborate on the analgesic mechanism of action. In this retrospective study, we collected demographic and clinical data from 33 chronic pain patients who used 10% to 30% phenytoin cream, and in whom blood samples were drawn for phenytoin concentration measurement between January 2017 until September 2020. The instruction was to withdraw blood 1 to 4 hours after the last topical phenytoin application. The primary outcome was the detectability of plasma phenytoin after daily use of topical phenytoin. Blood withdrawal was carried out after on average 14 treatment days with topical phenytoin and on average 2.5 hours after topical phenytoin application. The median daily applied amount of phenytoin cream was 1.2 grams, resulting in a median daily amount of 120 mg phenytoin on the skin. Phenytoin levels were below the limit of detection in all patients and no side effects were reported. Plasma phenytoin levels were below the limit of detection after topical use of phenytoin cream formulations up to 30% on intact skin and mucous membrane for the treatment of chronic pain, without side effects emerging. This finding suggests that the mechanism of analgesic action resides in the skin. © 2022 Kopsky et al.


David J Kopsky, Jan M Keppel Hesselink, Alan L Russell, Alexander F J E Vrancken. No Detectable Phenytoin Plasma Levels After Topical Phenytoin Cream Application in Chronic Pain: Inferences for Mechanisms of Action. Journal of pain research. 2022;15:377-383

PMID: 35173477

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