I asked on Facebook if anyone would like me to cover a particular topic on the blog. If you weren’t aware that I had a Facebook page, you can find it here. Angela replied and asked me what I knew about medications for treating fibromyalgia as she was experiencing unwanted side effects and did not know what to do. I could totally relate to her issues as I had unwanted side effects when I took prescribed drugs to treat my fibromyalgia too.
I have mentioned in some of my previous posts that I do not take any traditional medications to treat my fibromyalgia. Those of you that have been following my journey will know that I instead opt to take herbal therapies and that I have also made significant lifestyle changes.
In my opinion, medication can play a role in managing fibromyalgia for some patients. However, there is no one-size-fits-all approach and often the benefits of these meds are outweighed by unwanted side effects. I also believe that taking a drug without addressing lifestyle choices will see limited improvements in a condition such as fibromyalgia.
DRUGS APPROVED TO TREAT FIBROMYALGIA
There are three main drugs that are approved to treat fibromyalgia: Lyrica (Pregabalin), Cymbalta (Duloxetine) and Savella (Milnacipran). The unfortunate truth is that, even though these drugs have been approved for use in treating fibromyalgia and have undergone rigorous testing, the likelihood of them significantly helping you is mimimal.
According to the National Pain Report, only one in 10 patients taking Lyrica (Pregabalin) will see a 50% reduction in pain. For Cymbalta (Duloxetine) it’s one in 6 patients and for Savella (Milnacipran) it’s on in 8. These are hardly amazing statistics. In fact, they are the complete opposite.
The unfortunate truth is that only a minority of patients will see any significant improvements from taking these drugs. The benefits are likely to be minimal to moderate for most and many will actually find no benefit at all. This highlights the need for more research into treating fibromyalgia as there needs to be better options available. To me, especially with the improvements I have seen with Vital Plan, these statistics are just not good enough.
There are of course other medications that are used to treat fibromyalgia “off label”, such as Gabapentin (an older, similar drug to Pregabalin). “Off label” basically means that the drugs are licensed to treat other conditions but doctors will often prescribe them to treat fibromyalgia. However, the success rates for these drugs are also questionable.
UNWANTED SIDE EFFECTS
The biggest issue with medications used to treat fibromyalgia are the unwanted side effects. Even if you do see benefits from taking a medication, you are likely to experience one or more side effects. As with all medications the list of side effects for each drug is long. The worrying aspect, as far as I’m concerned, is that some of the listed side effects are actually the same symptoms that we already experience due to fibromyalgia: dizziness, sleep problems, drowsiness, tiredness, headaches, joint or muscle pain…
This can make it difficult to ascertain whether our condition has flared or if we are experiencing side effects from our medication. This was certainly the case for me when I took Gabaptentin. Here’s some of the unwanted side effects I had: headaches, fatigue, sleep problems, memory problems, anxiety… and for what benefit? My pain was dulled and it reduced my neurological symptoms (though it pretty much numbed everything!) but nothing significant.
My pain was still there. I basically traded off a slight reduction in pain for the worsening of many other symptoms. I think you can probably see why I decided to stop taking it. It wasn’t until I stopped taking this medication that I realised the extent of the side effects I was experiencing.
My question is: how many people take these drugs and experience side effects that they believe are due to a worsening of their condition? And how many put up with awful side effects for little benefit? I know I can probably speak for the vast majority when I say that any reduction in pain can be worth it… but at what cost?
A STATE OF MANAGED ILLNESS
Many might consider this a controversial statement but my concern is that the drugs used to treat fibromyalgia are creating a state of “managed illness” rather than empowering patients to feel better. The trade-off between side effects and benefits is concerning and I question whether these drugs are really improving the quality of peoples’ lives. They might for the minority but in my opinion that’s just not good enough.
We need improved treatment options and the healthcare system has to learn that there are perhaps different, more effective ways to help someone with fibromyalgia above and beyond writing a prescription. More research is needed, not only to better understand the condition, but to help doctors better understand how to treat it.
If you are not happy with the medication you are taking, my advice would be to speak to your doctor and see if there are any other options available to you. If, like me, you try more than one medication and decide you are no longer willing to take them for little benefit, my advice would be to do your own research. The book “Suffered Long Enough” and the Vital Plan Restore Program have been imperative to me feeling better; my pain is now minimal, which is amazing! I would recommend this program to anyone but I appreciate that we are all individual. When it comes to treatment, speak to your doctor, be guided by your intuition and don’t be afraid to try something new for fear of it not working. If you don’t try to move forward, you will stay stuck where you are. Believe me when I say things can get better; I speak from experience.
Disclaimer: Always seek advice from a doctor regarding treatment for fibromylagia.