Fibromyalgia is a complicated condition. It has no specific causes and no known cure. Yet for those who have it -- as many as one in 50 Americans -- the chronic pain, fatigue, and psychological strain of fibromyalgia are all too clear.
Fibromyalgia symptoms are treatable, however. Many experts believe the best treatment is a multifaceted approach that combines medication with lifestyle changes and alternative treatments.
You may need to work with your doctor, a physical therapist, and possibly others to tailor a treatment plan to your needs. Here’s how to get started.
Fibromyalgia Treatment: Start With a Diagnosis
Fibromyalgia is a syndrome-- a collection of symptoms, rather than a specific disease. Some of the most recognizable fibromyalgia symptoms are:
- Widespread pain
- Severe fatigue
- Tender points on the body
- Anxiety or depression
Doctors often diagnose fibromyalgia by considering criteria such as how long you’ve had pain and how widespread it is, and by ruling out other causes. This can be tricky, however, because symptoms associated with fibromyalgia can be caused by other conditions. So it’s best to see a doctor who is familiar with fibromyalgia.
There is a blood test to help diagnose fibromyalgia. The test -- called FM/a -- identifies markers produced by immune system blood cells in people with fibromyalgia. Ask your doctor if the FM/a test is right for you.
Learn About Fibromyalgia Medications
Once you’ve been diagnosed with fibromyalgia, your doctor will talk to you about treatment options. Several types of medicines are used to help manage fibromyalgia symptoms such as pain and fatigue.
Three medications are FDA-approved to treat fibromyalgia:
- Cymbalta (duloxetine): A type of antidepressant called a serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (SNRI). Researchers aren't sure how Cymbalta works in fibromyalgia, but they think that increasing levels of serotonin and norepinephrine help control and reduce feelings of pain.
- Lyrica (pregabalin): Lyrica is a nerve pain and epilepsy drug. In people with fibromyalgia, it may help calm down overly sensitive nerve cells that send pain signals throughout the body. It has been effective in treating fibro pain.
- Savella (milnacipran): Savella is also an SNRI. While researchers aren't exactly sure how it works, studies have shown that it helps relieve pain and reduce fatigue in people with fibromyalgia.
Antidepressants are also sometimes prescribed to help people manage fibromyalgia symptoms:
- Tricyclic antidepressants. By helping increase levels of the brain chemicals serotonin and norepinephrine, these medications may help relax painful muscles and enhance the body's natural painkillers.
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Your doctor may prescribe one of these types of antidepressants by itself or in combination with a tricyclic antidepressant. SSRIs prevent serotonin from being reabsorbed in the brain. This may help ease pain and fatigue.
These medications are also sometimes prescribed for fibromyalgia:
- Local anesthetics. Injected into especially tender areas, anesthetics can provide some temporary relief, usually for no longer than three months.
- Anticonvulsants or seizure medications such as Neurontin are effective for reducing pain and anxiety. It is unclear how these medications work to relieve the symptoms in fibromyalgia.
- Muscle Relaxants are occasionally prescribed to help alleviate pain associated with muscle strain in those with fibromyalgia.