Readers Sound Off on Fibromyalgia Drugs

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.

Lyrica, Cymbalta and Savella: Do They Work?

By Lana Barhum, Columnist

If you have fibromyalgia, chances are your doctor has prescribed one or more of the three drugs approved for fibromyalgia by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).   It is also likely you have been disappointed when they didn’t work and by the side effects they caused.

I have tried Lyrica (pregabalin), Cymbalta (duloxetine) and Savella (milnacipran). My experience is they don’t work well and clinical research doesn’t offer up enough credible evidence that they do.

Patient feedback on these medications is actually more telling than recent studies.  Just check any fibromyalgia online forum and you will find your unpleasant experiences with these medications aren’t unique and shared by many.


Lyrica was developed by Pfizer as a treatment for epilepsy, but it is now widely prescribed for many different types of pain. Lyrica was approved by the FDA in 2007 as the first drug specifically for the treatment of fibromyalgia. Pfizer notes on its website that Lyrica “significantly relieves fibromyalgia pain and improves physical function” in fibromyalgia patients.  But does it really?

An initial study from 2005, with results published in Arthritis & Rheumatology, found Lyrica to be effective at relieving pain in only 29% of the 529 fibromyalgia patients in the study group. 

A major shortcoming of the study was that weight gain affected 10% of the study participants.

What was also interesting about the Arthritis & Rheumatology study is that a large number of participants dropped out due to Lyrica's side effects, which included edema, dry mouth, weight gain, infection, increased appetite and constipation.

A 2014 study of out of the University of Calgary, with results published in the journal Therapeutic Advances in Drug Safety,  also found that Lyrica causes edema and weight gain in some patients. 

Those side effects, especially the weight gain, aren’t worth it for a drug that doesn’t seem to work well for most people. You would get more benefit from dietary changes for fibromyalgia than with Lyrica - at least that was my experience. 

All I got from taking Lyrica was a 40 pound weight gain that took me two years to take off. I made the mistake of staying on it for too long, believing that it would one day work for me.


Cymbalta was originally developed and marketed by Eli Lilly as a treatment for depression. You may even remember some of the commercials for it. In 2008, Cymbalta become the second drug approved by the FDA to treat fibromyalgia.

While Cymbalta doesn’t have stellar ratings amongst fibromyalgia patients, it does outperform Lyrica in my opinion. Initial trials, with results published in The Primary Care Companion to The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, show that over a third (36%) of study participants reported at least a 50% reduction in pain, based on a dosage of 60 mg once or twice per day.

A report published in the journal Expert Review of Clinical Immunology found that many participants dropped out of Phase I, II, and III trials of Cymbalta due to side effects, including nausea, headache, and sleep issues. 

Cymbalta has given me some pain relief over the years, but I have also made changes to my diet and lifestyle which may have helped as well.  If Cymbalta has helped me with anything, it is managing the depressed feelings fibromyalgia often leaves in its wake.


My Savella experience was far worse than my experiences with Lyrica and Cymbalta.  I could only stay on it for two weeks because the side effects were more than I could handle. Dizziness, vertigo, nausea, fatigue, and severe headache were a few of the side effects that stood out.  And I didn’t get any fibromyalgia pain or symptom relief.

Savella was developed by Forest Laboratories specifically for fibromyalgia and was approved by the FDA in 2009.

Like Lyrica and Cymbalta, studies confirm Savella’s poor performance. One double-blind study, reported in the journal Pharmacy & Therapeutics, found that only about one in four fibromyalgia patients (26%) were getting pain relief. 

The rate of discontinuation due to Savella’s side effects and treatment failure was also high -- nearly 43 percent.

In 2010, the consumer advocacy group Public Citizen petitioned the FDA to remove Savella from the market because it increased blood pressure in patients who didn’t have high blood pressure to start with. The group also argued Savella posed an increased risk for suicidal thoughts.

The FDA responded last year and denied Public Citizen’s petition, but said it would continue to monitor the safety of Savella.

My Thoughts

The only medication that I have seen that offers real improvement is Pfizer’s Neurontin (gabapentin), which is prescribed “off label” because it is not specifically approved to treat fibromyalgia by the FDA. Neurontin has helped my nerve pain and I also take muscle relaxers as needed, as I am frequent sufferer of muscle cramps and spasms. 

Studies have confirmed Neurontin’s effectiveness in treating fibromyalgia pain and improving sleep and fatigue. One double-blind study, with results published in Arthritis & Rheumatism, found that over half (51%) of fibromyalgia patients were finding relief with Neurontin.   

That’s not bad for a medication that was originally developed to manage seizures and whose formula has been the same since 1993. While it has helped me, I certainly understand Neurontin hasn’t helped everyone. There are even reports of Neurontin being abused by addicts. 

I am not sure why the makers of Lyrica, Cymbalta and Savella continue to market medications that don’t offer most people real results.  Yet, these medications remain available and doctors are still prescribing them to treat fibromyalgia. 

Let's just hope there are new fibromyalgia drugs on the horizon that actually work and give us real and reliable symptom and pain relief.

What has been your experience with Lyrica, Cymbalta and Savella?

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.

Two Drug Combo More Effective for Fibromylagia

By Pat Anson, Editor

Two drugs commonly prescribed for fibromyalgia – Lyrica and Cymbalta – are more effective in treating the disorder when used together, according to a new study by Canadian researchers.

Lyrica (pregabalin) is an anti-seizure nerve drug, while Cymbalta (duloxetine) works primarily as an anti-depressant. Both have been used for years to treat fibromyalgia -- a poorly understood disorder characterized by deep tissue pain, fatigue, insomnia, and mood swings. Until now no one has studied how effective the two drugs could be when used in combination.

"We are very excited to present the first evidence demonstrating superiority of a duloxetine-pregabalin combination over either drug alone," said lead author Ian Gilron, MD, Director of Clinical Pain Research at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario.

“The results of this trial suggest that combining pregabalin with duloxetine can safely improve outcomes in fibromyalgia including pain relief, physical function and overall quality of life.”

This was a small study – only 41 fibromyalgia patients participated – and the researchers admit that larger trials are needed to see if the results can be replicated. The new research was published in the journal Pain.

The study is the latest in a series of clinical trials -- funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research -- which Gilron and his colleagues have conducted on combination therapies for chronic pain conditions. By studying promising drug combinations, they hope to show physicians how to make the best use of current treatments.

"The value of such combination approaches is they typically involve drugs that have been extensively studied and are well known to health-care providers," says Gilron.

Patients in the study were divided into three groups that either took pregabalin alone, duloxetine alone or a combination of the two for six weeks. Doses were gradually increased in the study to the maximum tolerated dose. When used in combination, patients could only tolerate relatively low doses of pregabalin and duloxetine, suggesting the drugs have an overlap effect when used together.

“The pharmacological diversity of a pregabalin-duloxetine combination is a mechanistically appealing feature that increases the likelihood of additive analgesic actions although there could similarly be some additive adverse effects with this combination. Even at significantly lower doses during combination therapy, superior global pain relief during combination therapy would suggest a greater additive effect for pain reduction than for side effects,” said Gilron.

The biggest side effect of the pregabalin-duloxetine combination was drowsiness, and the researchers admit that reduced physical activity caused by drowsiness could have contributed to pain reduction. 

Patients have long complained of other side effects from pregabalin and duloxetine when used separately, such as weight gain, nervousness, and brain fogginess. Many have also reported severe withdrawal symptoms and “brain zaps” when trying to get off the drugs. The study apparently didn’t address those issues. 

Lyrica (pregabalin) is one of Pfizer’s top selling drugs and generates over $5 billion in revenue annually. In addition to fibromyalgia, Lyrica is approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat chronic pain associated with epilepsy, shingles, diabetic peripheral neuropathy, and spinal cord injury. The drug is also prescribed “off label” to treat lumbar spinal stenosis, the most common type of lower back pain in older adults.

Cymbalta (duloxetine) generated sales of $5 billion for Eli Lilly until its patent expired in 2013 and cheaper generic versions of duloxetine became available. Cymbalta is approved for fibromyalgia, neuropathy, osteoarthritis, depression and anxiety.

Only one other medication – Savella – is approved by the FDA for fibromyalgia, but it is not as widely used as the other drugs.

Fibromyalgia was initially thought to be a musculoskeletal disorder, but research now suggests it's a disorder of the central nervous system - the brain and spinal cord. Researchers believe that fibromyalgia amplifies painful sensations by affecting the level and activity of brain chemicals responsible for processing pain signals. It affects twice as many women as men.

What Alternatives do Pain Patients Have?

By Pat Anson, Editor

When the Food and Drug Administration last week endorsed the CDC’s controversial guidelines to limit opioid prescribing, the agency promised it would prioritize development of non-opioid alternatives for chronic pain relief.

“We are also working closely with industry and the National Institutes of Health to develop additional alternative medications that alleviate pain but do not have the addictive properties of opioids,” said Dr. Robert Califf, FDA Deputy Commissioner for Medical Products and Tobacco, who co-authored a “special report” on the FDA's new opioid policies the New England Journal of Medicine.   

“The FDA has approved non-opioid medications for treatment of various chronic-pain syndromes, including gabapentin (Neurontin), pregabalin (Lyrica), milnacipran (Savella), duloxetine (Cymbalta), and others, and a number of promising development programs are in the pipeline. But we need more. The FDA will use all the tools at its disposal to move these alternatives along as expeditiously as possible, while remaining mindful that all medicines have risks.”

The four drugs mentioned by Califf all have mixed track records, and many chronic pain sufferers have told Pain News Network the medications either don’t relieve their pain or have intolerable side effects.

“Gaba (Neurontin) did nothing for me and Lyrica seemed to help a very little with nerve pain but it made me very shaky, as if I drank a gallon of coffee,” wrote Pam Cushion.

“The side effects of Cymbalta were more than I could bear. I got terrible pains in the skin on my upper back and shoulders, and it made me feel downright awful,” said Tracy W.

“As opiate medications are lowered, my Lyrica dosage has gone up. It does have side effects like weight gain and next day fogginess,” wrote Kenneth McKenna. “I look for physicians to use other medicines in a similar fashion, (due to of the opioid restrictions) which may turn out to be a worse problem than the opioids themselves.”

Both Lyrica and Neurontin are coming under scrutiny in the UK because of increasing reports they are being abused by addicts to get high. Since 2012, over 60 overdose deaths in the UK have been linked to pregabalin and gabapentin.

Researchers in British Columbia also recently warned about the limitations of gabapentin, pregabalin, duloxetine, and venlafaxine (Effexor) when used to treat neuropathic pain.

“The best available evidence now indicates that as few as one in ten people can expect much pain relief from these drugs,” said Dr. Aaron Tejani, a Clinical Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Pharmaceutical Sciences and a member of the University of British Columbia's (UBC) Therapeutics Initiative Working Group. “Many people who improve are getting a placebo effect, or would improve in time without any drug treatment.  Others end up sedated, with impaired thinking, balance disturbance, dry mouth, or other side effects that cause more harm than good.”

The drugs may be ineffective for most patients, but Tejani says many doctors continue to prescribe them because of an exaggerated belief in their effectiveness. From 2005 to 2014, the number of British Columbians receiving pregabalin increased by 17 fold, according to UBC Therapeutics. Over three times as many prescriptions for duloxetine were written during that period, while gabapentin prescriptions nearly doubled. The use of venlafaxine, mostly for depression or anxiety, has been stable.

“Increasing evidence suggests that drugs have relatively little useful role for most patients with chronic pain. We should be much more cautious about prescribing them, and warn patients about their side effects,” said Dr. Tom Perry, a Clinical Assistant Professor in the Department of Anesthesiology, Pharmacology and Therapeutics and Chair of the UBC Therapeutics Initiative team.

Califf Nomination Still Stalled

The FDA’s sudden reversal on many of its opioid policies may have been intended to reduce opposition in the U.S. Senate to Robert Califf’s nomination as the agency’s new commissioner. Early indications are that strategy may not have worked.

“I will continue to strongly pressure the FDA to strengthen its oversight of opioid medications and will continue to push for the strongest possible framework for drug approval to ensure that the agency doesn’t simply continue to approve ever stronger and more deadly opioid medications under this new process,” said Sen. Joe Manchin (D) of West Virginia, one of five senators who are blocking Califf’s nomination.

Manchin has been particularly critical of the FDA’s failure on several occasions to accept the advice of its advisory committees, which have been reluctant to support the approval of new opioids. Last week Califf promised to appoint new advisory panels to review every new opioid that doesn’t have abuse deterrent properties.

“I believe the FDA should use the advisory committee’s expert advice for all opioid medications, including abuse-deterrent formulations, which are just as addictive and can be just as deadly as non-abuse deterrent opioids. The FDA also needs to commit to adhering to the recommendations that the advisory committee puts forward,” said Manchin.

Sen. Edward Markey (D) of Massachusetts also believes the FDA policy changes “fall short of what is needed.”

“While this is a good start, even more is required to ensure the FDA’s approval process protects Americans from the dangers of opioid painkillers,” Markey said in a statement. "Whether an opioid is abuse deterrent or not hasn’t prevented tens of thousands of people who have had their wisdom teeth removed or experienced lower back pain from getting addicted to these painkillers. That is why the FDA must change its decision not to seek expert advice about the risks of addiction before it approves abuse-deterrent opioids.”

Major Study Underway for New Fibromyalgia Drug

By Pat Anson, Editor

Lyrica, Cymbalta, and Savella -- the only drugs approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to treat fibromyalgia -- may be getting some competition.

A Japanese drug company, Daiichi Sankyo, is conducting clinical trials on mirogabalin, a new drug that could finally give fibromyalgia sufferers an alternative to the three approved medications -- which often don’t work or have too many side effects.

Daiichi Sankyo is currently enrolling patients in the “ALDAY” study, a large Phase III clinical trial evaluating the safety and efficacy of mirogabalin in treating pain from fibromyalgia. About 4,000 patients will be studied at 800 clinical centers in 40 different countries.

“We need men and women, 18 and older, who have been suffering from fibromyalgia pain for the last 3 months to participate in the ALDAY research study. If you qualify, you will be seen by a study doctor and receive all study-related medications at no cost. Compensation for study-related time and travel may also be available,” the company says on a website promoting the study.

A unique aspect of the ALDAY study is that it pits mirogabalin head to head against Lyrica (pregabalin), the top-selling fibromyalgia medication.  Both drugs bind to calcium channels that are believed to cause neuropathic pain. An earlier Phase II study suggested that mirogabalin may be 17 times more effective than Lyrica, although some critics questioned whether the design of the study was fair.

Advanced trials are also underway in Asia evaluating mirogabalin in the treatment of pain from diabetic peripheral neuralgia and postherpetic neuralgia (shingles).

“Pain associated with the neurologic conditions of diabetic peripheral neuropathic pain, postherpetic neuralgia and fibromyalgia can be debilitating,” said Lesley Arnold, MD, Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience and Director of the Women’s Health Research Program, University of Cincinnati and lead investigator of the ALDAY program. “New treatment options are needed to help people living with these neurologic conditions relieve and manage their chronic pain and hopefully, improve their function and quality of life.”

The National Institutes of Health estimates that 5 million Americans suffer from fibromyalgia, a poorly understood disorder characterized by deep tissue pain, fatigue, headaches, depression, mood swings, and insomnia. There is no known cure and the disorder is difficult to treat.

Many fibromyalgia sufferers have complained that Lyrica, Cymbalta and Savella – which were originally developed to treat other disorders like epilepsy, anxiety, and depression – are ineffective for fibromyalgia.

“There are far too many off-label prescriptions written. These two classifications, anti-seizure and antidepressant, are frequently prescribed for pain on and off label. They come with far more side effects than opioids, but physicians feel, (and) are told, they are doing the right thing, when we are lacking statistics on after-market deaths associated with them,” said Celeste Cooper, a retired nurse, fibromyalgia sufferer and patient advocate.

“They completely reorder the brain and it is my opinion that these drugs should only be prescribed by physicians who specialize in brain chemistry (psychiatrist and neurologist) and know what interactions and side effects to alert patients, which is not being done currently.”

Dozens of patients wrote to Pain News Network with complaints of side effects from Lyrica and Cymbalta after a recent story about lawsuits involving the drugs.

“I took Cymbalta for a while. It didn't stop the pain of fibromyalgia, it just put 30 lbs. on me. I had my doctor wean me off. I got horrible Brain Zaps for a long time and felt terrible. Never take Cymbalta!” wrote Carol Fruzzetti.

“When I was on Lyrica I was literally walking into walls in my house or holding onto the wall for fear I was going to pass out I would get so dizzy. It made me feel like I was drunk all the time. I did not drive for fear I would kill myself or someone else. I will never take this drug again,” wrote Lana Straten.

Lyrica is one of Pfizer’s top selling drugs, generating $5.1 billion in revenue in 2014.  

Cymbalta generated annual sales of $5 billion for Eli Lilly until its patent expired in 2013 and cheaper generic versions of Doluxetine became available.

Savella generated sales of “only” $105 million for Forest Laboratories in 2013.