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Living With Fibromyalgia:, Drugs Approved to Manage Pain

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After meeting on the Internet in 1997, Lynne Matallana and Karen Lee Richards discovered they had a lot in common. They both had seen numerous doctors before being diagnosed with fibromyalgia, a chronic condition characterized by fatigue and widespread pain in muscles and joints. They both had trouble finding medical information and support for coping with the illness. Seven months after meeting, they started gathering with five other people with fibromyalgia who also wanted to bring awareness to the issue.

"We called ourselves 'the pillow posse' because we would meet and have our pillows to support our aching bodies," Matallana says. Those gatherings grew into the National Fibromyalgia Association (NFA), an organization that now provides support, research information, medical education, and messages of hope to millions.

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Fibromyalgia affects 2 to 4 percent of the population, according to the American College of Rheumatology (ACR). It mostly affects women, and tends to develop in early to middle adulthood. But men and children also can have it.

"One of the challenges is that fibromyalgia hasn't always been recognized as a specific illness," says Jeffrey Siegel, M.D., clinical team leader in FDA's Division of Anesthesia, Analgesia, and Rheumatology Products. "In 1990, the American College of Rheumatology developed criteria for diagnosing it, and this marked a major step forward in helping more people understand how to recognize the symptoms and how to treat them."

Approved Drugs

People with fibromyalgia have typically turned to pain medicines, antidepressants, muscle relaxants, and sleep medicines. In June 2007, Lyrica (pregabalin) became the first FDA-approved drug for specifically treating fibromyalgia; a year later, in June 2008, Cymbalta (duloxetine hydrochloride) became the second.

Both Lyrica and Cymbalta reduce pain and improve function in people with fibromyalgia. While those with fibromyalgia have been shown to experience pain differently from other people, the mechanism by which these drugs produce their effects is unknown. There is some data suggesting that these drugs affect the release of neurotransmitters in the brain. Neurotransmitters are chemicals that transmit signals from one neuron to another. Treatment with Lyrica or Cymbalta reduces the level of pain experienced by some people with fibromyalgia.

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