Treating fibromyalgia is difficult, in large part because doctors don’t yet fully understand the disorder.
In 2008, the Food and Drug Administration approved the antidepressant Cymbalta for use in treating the condition.
While this drug improves the quality of life for many fibromyalgia sufferers, there are some potential drawbacks to the treatment.
Learning the facts about Cymbalta can help you and your doctor decide if including this medication in your treatment plan is right for you.
What is Fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia is a condition that causes fatigue and widespread pain in the muscles and bones throughout the body.
It may also affect your memory and your mood. Doctors aren’t sure what causes it and have no way to test for it.
To diagnose fibromyalgia, your doctor will compare your symptoms to those known in the disorder. He may also do some testing to rule out other conditions.
Although the specific cause of the disorder is unknown, doctor’s believe fibromyalgia could be the result of several factors working together. These factors include genetics, prior injuries, previous infections, and stress.
Treatment for fibromyalgia typically involves a combination of approaches that may include physical therapy, yoga, acupuncture, dietary changes, massage, and medications. Multiple medications may be used to relax muscles, control pain and reduce anxiety.
What is Cymbalta?
Cymbalta is a brand name of a drug known as duloxetine. Drugs.com classifies Cymbalta as a selective serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (SSNRI).
Serotonin and norepinephrine are both natural chemicals produced by your brain.
They are known as feel-good chemicals that improve communication between the cells in your brain and help you experience happiness and joy. These neurotransmitters also help to suppress pain.
Normally, your brain produces these chemicals, uses them and then reabsorbs them.
SSNRIs like Cymbalta force your body to reabsorb these chemicals more slowly. As a result, your brain has more of them available to work with at any given time, thus improving your mood and overall mental state.
How Does Cymbalta Work With Fibromyalgia?
According to WebMD, scientists and doctors aren’t really sure why or how Cymbalta works to help fibromyalgia patients.
The current theory is that those with fibromyalgia experience even minor central nervous system changes as pain.
Doctors believe that the nerve cells send a pain signal in response to changes in the body even when a pain response is unnecessary.
Because serotonin and norepinephrine dampen the body’s pain response, having more of these chemicals in the brain potentially numbs the body’s response when the nerves overreact to stimuli.
A review of the literature published in the Expert Review of Clinical Immunology confirms that although it is well established that Cymbalta can ease fibromyalgia pain, much more research is needed to truly understand how and why.
What are the Benefits of Cymbalta for Fibromyalgia
If you struggle with fibromyalgia, Cymbalta can improve both your physical and emotional health.
As reported in Medical News Today, studies have shown that fibromyalgia patients taking Cymbalta experience a pain reduction of up to 85%.
If Cymbalta works for you, it offers the promise of spending your days the way you want rather than the way your pain level dictates.
Improved pain control will also help you when you sleep. Less pain and stiffness leads to a deeper sleep, which is exactly what your muscles need to restore themselves.
Better sleep can also help you to be more mentally alert, potentially reducing the amount of mental fogginess your fibromyalgia causes.
Because it is an antiperspirant, Cymbalta can also improve your emotional well-being. Living with fibromyalgia is hard.
You may experience chronic pain, fight fatigue, battle irritable bowel syndrome and suffer other daily unpleasant effects.
Further complicating the issue is that friends and family members may fail to understand the nature of your fibromyalgia fight.
These problems often lead to depression, so taking Cymbalta may help you feel better mentally as well as physically.
Does Cymbalta Have Side Effects?
Like all medications, Cymbalta can cause side effects in some people. They are often minor but can be impactful enough that some patients to discontinue treatment.
The Mayo Clinic lists the most common side effects of Cymbalta as:
- Dry mouth
- Excessive sweating
Although less common, some patients experience an increase in fatigue while taking Cymbalta while others experience insomnia.
Constipation is possible with this medication, and some patients experience anorexia or a loss of appetite.
Sexual dysfunction has also been noted, with some patients struggling to orgasm or maintain an erection.
Use caution if you are under 24 years of age but choose to take Cymbalta. Like all SSNRIs, Cymbalta increases the risk of suicidal thoughts and tendencies in young people.
Make sure your friends and family know about this side effect so they can help you and your doctor spot behavioral changes.
Are There People Who Should Avoid Cymbalta?
To avoid potentially dangerous drug interactions, you should not take Cymbalta if you are currently taking a certain type of antidepressant known as a monoamine oxidase inhibitor(MAOI) or have in the last 14 days.
Cymbalta is also best avoided if you have narrow-angle glaucoma, kidney issues or liver problems. Cymbalta and alcohol don’t mix well, so you’ll need to choose one or the other.
Do not take Cymbalta if you are breastfeeding, pregnant or planning to become pregnant.
Studies have shown a risk to fetal development only in the third trimester, but the effects of taking Cymbalta during pregnancy have not been widely studied.
It is best to avoid taking the drug while pregnant until more information is available.
Keep in mind that medications taken during pregnancy can cause adverse reactions in infancy, even when no physical or developmental deformities are present at birth.
The American Pregnancy Association reminds women that taking Cymbalta and certain other medications during pregnancy can result in an infant who cries excessively, is difficult to feed and is highly irritable.
Can I Stay on Cymbalta Indefinitely?
If you try Cymbalta and it works for you, you will, of course, want to keep taking the medication.
Having only been approved by the FDA in 2004, there is a limited amount of information available about Cymbalta’s long-term effects.
So far, however, studies have not found any negative effects associated with long-term Cymbalta usage.
Time does matter, though, where Cymbalta is concerned. It can take up to 8 weeks for this medication to work at its full potency, so be patient when starting treatment. You may not feel better right away.
If you choose to stop taking Cymbalta, your doctor is likely to wean you off the medication rather than allowing you to stop suddenly.
Should I Be Concerned About Cymbalta Withdrawal?
Cymbalta offers many benefits to fibromyalgia sufferers, but some people are hesitant to start this drug in case they need to stop it. It is true that coming off of Cymbalta is notoriously difficult for some people.
The most taxing Cymbalta withdrawal symptom is known as “brain zaps.” This highly technical term refers to the sensation of an electric shock occurring in the brain.
This intermittent problem does not occur in everyone who stops taking the medication, but it is a frequently reported occurrence.
Other potential Cymbalta withdrawal symptoms include headaches, vertigo, hand tremors, tingling nerves and stomach upset. Some people experience extreme hostility, anger and mood swings as well.
In order to prevent these withdrawal effects, your doctor will devise a dosage schedule to wean you off the medication.
This gradual dosage reduction reduces the risk that you will experience problems during withdrawal.
It is also important to note that everyone is different. This means you may experience no withdrawal symptoms even if someone else does.
If you are concerned about taking Cymbalta for fear that stopping will be difficult, talk to your doctor.
She can help you determine if the risks of Cymbalta outweigh its potential benefits for you.
Never dismiss a medication that could greatly benefit you without talking to your healthcare provider first.
What is the Bottom Line? Should I Consider Cymbalta?
You should absolutely consider Cymbalta if you are struggling with fibromyalgia.
Cymbalta is frequently prescribed for the condition and there are many compelling reasons to consider this treatment option.
Like all prescription medications, however, Cymbalta has risks as well as benefits.
Cymbalta may also work well for some people but help others only minimally or not at all.
The only way to know if Cymbalta will work for you and your fibromyalgia symptoms is to talk to your doctor about giving it a try. Together you can decide whether or not Cymbalta is a good option for you.
If it is a viable option, you and your doctor will monitor your progress together to determine how well Cymbalta is working to control your fibromyalgia.
If you find relief, there is no reason to stop taking the medication or fear of long-term side effects.
If you don’t find relief, your doctor will help you wean yourself off of the Cymbalta so you can stop taking the medication while minimizing the risk of withdrawal symptoms.