Side Effects of Fibromyalgia Drugs
There are three fibro drugs on the market: Cymbalta, Lyrica, and Savella. (Other drugs may be used off-label, meaning they aren’t specifically approved to treat fibro.)
Like all medications, they can carry certain risks. “The drug with no side effects is only in our imagination,” says Eduardo Fraifeld, MD, president of the American Academy of Pain Medicine.
Here are some of the medical treatment options your medical doctor may offer and common side effects:
This is the first drug approved by the FDA specifically for the treatment of fibromyalgia. While this is a step forward, it is no cure. Lyrica has been shown to cut pain levels in half, but only in 30% of the people who took it and with a number of side effects described below.
One of the most common side effects of fibro drugs, reported by both doctors and patients, is dizziness. In the clinical trials for Lyrica, the first drug approved specifically for fibro by the FDA, 31% of the patients who took the drug experienced dizziness.
Lyrica has been shown to cause weight gain. Since weight gain is a common problem in fibromyalgia to begin with taking a medication that has the side effect of weight gain, frequently just compounds the problem. “The average weight gain in fibromyalgia is 32.5 pounds,” says Dr. Teitelbaum. “Adding more weight gain in a disease that most often affects women really lowers their self-images.”
About 22% of people who took Lyrica in a clinical trial experienced sleepiness (other fibro drugs can make you drowsy as well).
“Lyrica is chemically related to medications that stimulate your body’s natural Valium, a brain chemical called GABA,” says Dr. Teitelbaum. “Because of that, it contributes to a little lack of mental clarity.”
The cognitive cloudiness known as fibro fog is common even in fibromyalgia patients who aren’t taking medication, so if you feel that you are growing increasingly confused after you start taking a drug that is likely why.
Lyrica and Cymbalta can also produce some swelling in the legs, hands, and feet.
Cymbalta and Savella
These medicines may improve sleep and decrease fibromyalgia pain, but once again those improvements come with a number of side effects outlined below:
An upset stomach is one of the most common side effects of both Cymbalta and Savella, says Jacob Teitelbaum, MD, the medical director of the Fibromyalgia and Fatigue Centers, a nationwide chain of treatment centers. About 20% of Cymbalta users, and roughly 25% of Savella users, stop taking their medication because of nausea and other adverse reactions, he says.
Cymbalta is a type of antidepressant known as a serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (SNRI). SNRIs raise blood pressure in many people who take the drugs, so patients should be screened regularly for hypertension.
Savella, another type of SNRI indicated for fibromyalgia, may also increase heart rate or cause heart palpitations.
Fibromyalgia is sometimes associated with an autoimmune disorder that zaps your ability to produce saliva (called Sjogren syndrome), and fibro meds can make that dry mouth even worse. Dry mouth might not sound like a big deal, but it can cause cavities and even require people to have their teeth removed, says Dr. Teitelbaum.
All three of the drugs approved for fibromyalgia by the FDA have prominent warnings about a possible increase in suicidal thoughts or behavior.
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