With so many different symptoms, it’s no surprise that fibromyalgia and CFS patients are typically taking 6–12 different prescription drugs. Lyrica, Elavil, Klonopin, Paxil, Effexor, Xanax, Trazadone, Neurontin, Zanaflex, Ambien, Lunesta, Cymbalta, and Provigil have all been heralded as “the drug” for fibromyalgia.
Some of these are helpful, some worthless, and some really dangerous.
Drug management alone typically fails to yield lasting relief from the most common fibromyalgia and CFS symptoms, and patients’ and doctors’ optimism over a new drug treatment eventually gives way to this sad reality. Oh well, a new drug with an even larger marketing budget is on the horizon. (Forgive my cynicism. I’ve just seen this situation so many times!)
Many of the most commonly prescribed drugs for fibromyalgia have side effects that are similar or identical to the symptoms of FMS and CFS. These similarities can cause a lot of confusion when doctors are trying to determine the effectiveness of treatment. Ambien, for instance, can cause flu-like symptoms, achy muscle pain, sore throat, and fatigue. Sounds like CFS, doesn’t it?
Tranquilizers are often prescribed for restless leg syndrome; achy, tight muscles; and sleep problems. But these drugs deplete the sleep hormone melatonin, which then leads to a disruption of a person’s circadian rhythm (sleep-wake cycle). Instead of promoting deep restorative sleep, these drugs prevent it!
It’s important to realize that your drug or drugs may be causing or contributing to some or all of your symptoms.
I spend a great deal of time with my new patients reviewing and discussing their current drugs—how they interact with each other, and the potential side effects. I often find that by asking the right question, I can help the patient realize that her symptoms began or worsened soon after the drug treatment began.
Sometimes, though, I do find drug-induced symptoms that began months after the start of the drug treatment. Drugs deplete essential nutrients that the body needs to properly function, but it can take weeks, months, or even years for the drug to fully deplete the nutrient and for you to see the side effects surface.
Still, not everyone can be drug free, and most of my patients are on at least one prescription medication. But the least offensive drug should be used—sparingly—and only to manage symptoms unresponsive to more natural therapies.
A study conducted by the Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research demonstrates the need the limitations of traditional medicine alone for treating fibromyalgia.
Thirty-nine patients with FMS were interviewed about their symptoms. Twenty-nine were interviewed again 10 years later. Of these 29 (mean age 55 at second interview), all had persistence of the same FMS symptoms.
Moderate to severe pain or stiffness was reported in 55% of patients, moderate to a great deal of sleep difficulty was noted in 48%, and moderate to extreme fatigue was noted in 59%. These symptoms showed little change from earlier surveys.
The surprising finding was that 79% of the patients were still taking medications to control symptoms.
We can conclude that the medications weren’t making a significant impact.
Conventional medical treatments for FMS and CFS is a controversial topic, and I certainly have no desire to offend the many brilliant medical doctors out there.
Still, in my experience, most traditional doctors continue to rely on prescription medications to treat fibromyalgia, even though their own studies show them to be ineffective and potentially dangerous.
They still just don’t get it. Those with fibromyalgia and CFS are sick and they want to feel well, not drugged.
Just try to find a doctor who really knows anything about these illnesses. Most don’t. It’s even harder to find one who is having any lasting success treating these illnesses. How many folks with fibromyalgia get well under the care of a traditional rheumatologist?
I rest my case.
I speak to fibromyalgia support groups across North America, and I can tell you what the answer is: very few. The three-month wait for a new patient appointment typically ends in a two-hour interview and exam followed by a 10 minute visit to discuss test results, and then several prescription drugs and a follow-up appointment every 3–6 months.
And let’s face it, those with fibromyalgia are medical misfits, they don’t usually respond to medications like other folks. The ACR has, like many physicians, thrown up their hands and admitted they have little if anything to offer for those suffering from fibromyalgia. They focus more on helping their patients “cope.” At least they’re honest about their limitations.