By Lana Barhum, Columnist
In my previous column, “Lyrica, Cymbalta and Savella: Do They Work?” I shared research studies and my own experience with the three medications approved for use in treating fibromyalgia.
Clinical studies on all three drugs don’t seem to offer enough creditable evidence that they are effective in managing fibromyalgia symptoms. Moreover, they carry very harsh side effects, including weight gain, edema, nausea, headaches, vertigo, sleep issues, and changes in blood pressure.
My experience was similar. Lyrica, Cymbalta and Savella were ineffective for me, and had some tough and life-altering side effects.
It makes me wonder why doctors are still prescribing these medications and why the Food and Drug Administration continues to allow them to stay on the market.
In 2012, German researchers aimed to assess the benefits and harms of Cymbalta and Savella in treating fibromyalgia. Ten studies with over 6,000 fibromyalgia patients were reviewed.
The results were that 22 percent of patients reported substantial relief and 21 percent had to quit treatment due to unpleasant side effects.
In reader comments on our website and Facebook page, many of you had comparable experiences:
“Tried all 3…nothing but weight gain and dizziness. No pain relief. Still haven't found anything that works.”
“I've had multiple spinal surgeries and fusions, and have severe nerve damage. And severe chronic pain. So, I've taken all three of these meds. Without success.”
I will not discount the fact that Lyrica, Cymbalta and Savella work for some people, but they appear to help only about 20 to 30 percent of patients who try them:
“I take one 60mg (of) Cymbalta a day, and it doesn't take away all the pain, but it does make it a bit more bearable.”
“I am using all three. There is relief but in moderation.”
“I have been on Lyrica since 2007 and do have relief of my Fibro pain. I am also on Cymbalta, a muscle relaxant and pain med that really (does) make a difference with my Fibro, arthritis and osteo pain.”
“Tried Savella, no good. Lyrica did not decrease pain enough to continue. I've used Cymbalta and had good results. Best results have been from using Gabapentin (Neurontin) since 1996, up to 3600 mg daily.”
“I'm back on Lyrica and Cymbalta. I know of the side effects with this medicine but it is the only option that remotely helps.”
The effectiveness of Lyrica and Cymbalta, in particular, has been hyped up with aggressive advertising by their manufacturers. And while research and patient experience show improvement on any of the medications is spotty at best, doctors continue to prescribe them. This is yet another example where the medical field, in general, has not done a good job in treating, understanding or advocating for fibromyalgia patients.
Side effects reported by readers to the three drugs include dizziness, mood changes, cognitive issues, swelling, sleep issues, weight gain, increased blood pressure, blackouts and more. Many of these side effects have a detrimental effect on the daily lives of fibromyalgia sufferers – as if our lives were not difficult enough.
“Lyrica was the worst! I became a sleep-walking zombie. I was so out of it at night that I rarely made it to bed laying down. I would find myself in weird places asleep, such as with my head resting on the faucet in the bathroom sink. Or, I would sleepwalk and fall, like down the stairs. Certainly not good for helping my pain!”
“Lyrica did nothing for me. Cymbalta changed my personality completely. I became mean and hateful. When I asked the (doctor) about it, he's like, yeah that can happen.”
“I have taken Neurontin, Lyrica, Savella, and currently take Cymbalta. Neurontin gave me bad nausea, and the feeling of bugs crawling all over my body. Lyrica made me gain a lot of weight, and didn't help my pain at all. The Savella was the worst for me, it gave me very bad suicidal thoughts, so bad I had to stop taking it, it also never helped with pain.”
If only there was an ideal treatment for fibromyalgia -- one that would offer real relief from the worst symptoms and with few side effects. But such a treatment could only come with a real understanding about the causes and symptoms of fibromyalgia, and I don’t feel medical research has gotten there yet.
The worst part of my experience with fibromyalgia is trying countless treatments to no avail. And there is nothing worse than being told, as I was, by a medical provider that if you expect real relief, you should also expect side effects and learn to cope with them. That statement shows what little understanding and empathy the medical community has about fibromyalgia, its process, and its difficulties.
I wish I had some good treatment advice to offer, but the fact is, like so many of you, I am exhausted. Years of trying medication after medication has left me weary of the medical community and the companies that manufacture fibromyalgia drugs.
I have accepted defeat and refuse to try anything new. Neurontin, Cymbalta, and muscle relaxers offer me some relief from nerve pain, depression, and muscle spasms, so I continue to take them. Even so, I still live with widespread muscle and tissue pain, and a whole host of other symptoms fibromyalgia brings in its wake.
Lana Barhum is a freelance medical writer, patient advocate, legal assistant and mother. Having lived with rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia since 2008, Lana uses her experiences to share expert advice on living successfully with chronic illness. She has written for several online health communities, including Alliance Health, Upwell, Mango Health, and The Mighty.
To learn more about Lana, visit her website.
The information in this column should not be considered as professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It is for informational purposes only and represent the author’s opinions alone. It does not inherently express or reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of Pain News Network.