Medication for fibromyalgia

There are a number of treatments and therapies to manage the symptoms of fibromyalgia, such as pain, sleep problems or depression. This may include drug treatments, although studies tell us that physical and talking therapies are often more effective. Whilst drugs can’t treat fibromyalgia alone, they can sometimes help reduce symptoms to a level that enable people to become more physically active and take part in physical and talking therapies.

Some of the drug treatments that can be helpful for treating fibromyalgia were originally used to treat other conditions such as depression and epilepsy. This includes antidepressants such as amitriptyline, or drugs targeting nerve pain, including pregabalin and gabapentin. They work by changing how the brain and central nervous system process pain. They can reduce pain and help sleep, but can have a number of side-effects.

Other drug treatments that can ease pain include paracetamol, or stronger medicines such as co-codamol and co-dydramol which contain paracetamol and a low dose of a stronger opioid painkiller. Other stronger opioid-based painkillers include tramadol and morphine. Opioid-based painkillers can cause a number of side effects and are generally not recommended for the treatment of fibromyalgia. Opioids tend to mask pain and do not resolve the problem causing it. There is also evidence that long-term use of opioids may actually increase pain because the body can build up a tolerance to them, and with long-term use there’s a risk people can become addicted to them.

The people we spoke to talked about taking various medicines for their fibromyalgia. These were mostly intended to help with their symptoms of pain, and ranged from over-the counter painkillers such as paracetamol and non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (e.g. ibuprofen) to prescription medicines. Although a few said that some of these did help to control their pain, a common experience was that they didn’t work that well and that dosages had to be increased over time.

Julie takes anti-depressants amitriptyline and duloxetine for pain, but is not sure if it’s helping or not.

Age at interview 48

Age at diagnosis 45

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Some people described experiencing negative side effects from prescription painkillers. They described having to balance the side effects with pain control, sometimes more medication could help with their pain, but make them less able to function. Mary said that to control her pain makes her ‘lose the ability to function.’ Aleysha feels that her medication does help with her pain but makes it hard for her to sleep.

Aleysha feels that her medication does help with her pain but makes it hard for her to sleep.

Age at interview 23

Age at diagnosis 22

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Mary said that to control her pain makes her lose the ability to function.

Age at interview 59

Age at diagnosis 43

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Martin said that for him, the side effects were worse than what help it did do. He describes suffering a bad reaction a painkiller.

Age at interview 46

Age at diagnosis 28

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Melanie has been prescribed medication for pain relief and depression. Although she feels that these medications don’t really work and is concerned about their long-term impact, she’s worried about how much pain she would be in without them and how she would cope. Lisa doesn’t feel that the medication she was prescribed helps her, she wishes there was something more that could help her.

Although Melanie feels her medications don’t really work, she’s worried about how she would cope without it.

Lisa wishes there was something more that could help her in this day and age.

Age at interview 40

Age at diagnosis 35

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Many people expressed a reluctance to become too reliant on taking lots of pills. Chris feels like he takes too many tablets and Lyn said that she doesn’t want to depend on medication and become ‘zombiefied.’

Lyn said that she doesn’t want to depend on medication and become zombiefied.

Age at interview 68

Age at diagnosis 50

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Chris sometimes feels like he’s taking too many tablets.

Age at interview 58

Age at diagnosis 43

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