Ok, you have a diagnosis…now what’s going to happen?
Most likely, your doctor is going to give you medication. There are many different medications used to manage FM, including pain medicines, sleeping pills, and antidepressants. Some help ease pain. Others boost mood and improve sleep. Working with your doctor will help you find the right medication to add to your multi-faceted comprehensive treatment regimen. That way, you can begin to manage your symptoms effectively…
The first medication doctors will often try is an anti-depressant (this does NOT mean you are necessarily suffering from depression!), which helps relieve pain, fatigue, and sleep problems. Nonetheless, depression is commonly seen in people with FM.
Older anti-depressants, called tricyclics (including Elavil (amitriptyline) and Pamelor (nortriptyline)), have been used for many years to treat FM. They work by raising the levels of chemicals (neurotransmitters) in the brain.
Tricyclic anti-depressants increase levels of serotonin and norepinephrine in the brain. People with chronic pain often have decreased levels of these calming neurotransmitters. Tricyclics can relax painful muscles and heighten the effects of endorphins – the body’s natural painkillers. While these medications are often very effective, the side effects can sometimes make them difficult to take as they may cause drowsiness, dizziness, dry mouth, dry eyes, and constipation.
There are numerous types of anti-depressants and several of them have been shown to help relieve the pain, fatigue, and sleep problems in people with FM.
The most well-studied anti-depressants for FM include Cymbalta (duloxetine), Savella (milnacipran), and Effexor (venlafaxine). Cymbalta and Savella are specifically FDA-approved to treat FM. There is less medical research to show that Effexor helps FM. Other anti-depressants that have also been studied for FM and may help include Prozac (fluoxetine), Paxil (paroxetine), and Celexa (citalopram).
That’s a lot of different choices to work through and yes, it’s all trial and error to see what works for you. What works for one person with FM may not work for someone else. Different anti-depressants work differently in the body. That’s why you may have to try more than one anti-depressant to find the one that best relieves the pain, fatigue, and sleep difficulties. Your doctor may even want you to try a combination of more than one anti-depressant at a time.
Then, there are different types of pain relievers, sometimes recommended to ease the deep muscle pain and trigger-point pain that comes with FM. The problem is these pain relievers don’t work the same for everyone, either.
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), when taken alone, don’t typically work that well for FM. However, when combined with other medications, NSAIDs often do help. NSAIDs are available over the counter and include drugs such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen. Further, the over-the-counter pain reliever acetaminophen elevates the pain threshold so you perceive less pain. Acetaminophen is relatively free of side effects. But avoid this medication if you have liver disease.
You also need to be careful taking aspirin or other NSAIDs if you have stomach problems. These medications can lead to heartburn, nausea or vomiting, stomach ulcers, and stomach bleeding. Don’t ever take over-the-counter NSAIDs for more than 10 days without checking with your doctor. Taking them for a prolonged period increases the chance of serious side effects.
Sometimes, your doctor will prescribe the muscle relaxant cyclobenzaprine. has proved useful for the treatment of FM. It has proved to be helpful with easing muscle tension and improving sleep. Muscle relaxants work in the brain to relax muscles; but you may experience dry mouth, dizziness, drowsiness, blurred vision, clumsiness, unsteadiness, and change in the colour of your urine. These medications may increase the likelihood of seizures, confusion and hallucinations.
Most recently, Lyrica, originally used to treat seizures, is being used to treat FM. Lyrica affects chemicals in the brain that send pain signals across the nervous system. So it reduces pain and fatigue and improves sleep.
Neurontin (gabapentin) is another anti-seizure medication that has also been shown to improve FM symptoms.
Other medications include pain relievers such as Ultram (tramadol) which is a narcotic-like medication that acts in the brain to affect the sensation of pain. However, it is not as addictive as narcotics.
In addition, doctors may prescribe benzodiazepines such as Ativan (lorazepam), Klonopin (clonazepam), Valium (diazepam), and Xanax (alprazolam) to help relax painful muscles, improve sleep, and relieve symptoms of restless legs syndrome. Benzodiazepines are addictive and must be used with caution on a short-term basis. Taking more than recommended increases the risk of serious side effects, including death.
Powerful narcotic medications, such as Percocet and OxyContin (oxycodone) and Vicodin and Lortab (hydrocodone), should only be considered if all other drugs and alternative therapies have been exhausted and there is no relief.
All of this seems quite daunting which is why you need to surround yourself with a team you trust, which may include doctors, friends and/or family. The most consistent treatment advice that all the experts in FM try to promote is a multi-faceted approach. So, as well as all these medications, you will need to explore a whole range of complementary treatments.
I don’t mean to scare you; in fact, I am trying to help by blogging about research and my experiences with different activities (please explore the site). There is also a directory of other FM bloggers that allows you to find people who are going through the same stuff as you.