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Antidepressants Help Treat Fibromyalgia

Researchers Find Some Antidepressants May Relieve Pain of Fibromyalgia
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Antidepressants vs. Fibromyalgia continued...

Lilly spokeswoman Sonja Popp-Stahly tells WebMD that the three company-funded Cymbalta studies included in the analysis show that the drug works in fibromyalgia patients with and without depression.

Since none of the studies in the analysis followed patients for longer than six months, the long-term effectiveness of these drugs is not clear, Hauser notes.

"Fibromyalgia is a lifelong disorder, so we definitely need to study these drugs to see if they work for long periods," he says.

Antidepressants Don't Work for All

And while antidepressants can improve fibromyalgia symptoms, they don't work for everyone.

According to Hauser, about one out of four to six patients experiences significant pain reductions of about 30% while taking an antidepressant.

Since antidepressants can have significant side effects, even when given in small doses, patients taking them for fibromyalgia should be followed closely, he adds.

Right now, it is not clear which fibromyalgia patients will benefit from treatment with antidepressants and which ones will not, but National Fibromyalgia Association President Lynne Matallana tells WebMD that this may soon change.

"These drugs are useful in a certain population of people with fibromyalgia," she says. "I would say that within three years we will be better able to tell who these patients are and target treatments to them."

University of North Carolina rheumatologist and professor of medicine Nortin Hadler, MD, remains unconvinced that fibromyalgia is a distinct medical condition and he says it is far from clear whether the benefits of giving antidepressants for this indication outweigh the risks.

Just over 75% of the patients taking antidepressants in the analysis reported side effects, compared to just over 62% of patients taking placebo.

"I have a problem with telling people to take antidepressants if they are not suffering from depression," he says. "In the studies included in the analysis, the patients who responded to treatment did not get that much better. There is nothing dramatic going on with these drugs except their side effects and their price."

Other Fibromyalgia Treatments

Matallana points out that while drug treatments have been shown to help some fibromyalgia patients, so have other approaches to treatment including:

  • Diet and exercise. Studies suggest that more than half of fibromyalgia patients become obese, although the reason for this is not well understood. Eating a healthy diet may help, and studies have shown that regular exercise boosts endorphin production, which can decrease pain.
  • Physical therapy. Physical therapy can help relieve fibromyalgia pain and stiffness and help relax tense muscles.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy, therapeutic massage, biofeedback, and other nontraditional approaches have been shown to help some patients.

"One of the most important and most challenging things is to find a health care provider who knows about fibromyalgia," she says. "That can be really difficult, because so many physicians still don't understand it."

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