Prescription or Natural?
Seeking relief from the ongoing pain of fibromyalgia, patients have often turned to medicine in hope that it would ease their troubles. These medicines however, the two prominent ones being Lyrica and Neurontin (commonly called gabapentin), host a plague of side-effects that may leave its patients wondering if they were better off without them. Natural medications and supplements seem to be the second best option, but they are not regulated by the FDA. The free reign of the business of natural remedies has sometimes resulted in fraudulent advertising and unfulfilled promises of what the product can do.
Luckily, one site named Consumer Lab works independently of medical corporations and the United States government to ensure objective reviews and research on the products in question, granting a better peace of mind for the consumer.
Lyrica, as stated on the company’s website, is a “prescription medication approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and is used in adults to treat fibromyalgia (chronic pain all over your body), diabetic nerve pain, or pain associated with diabetic peripheral neuropathy (pain in the feet and hands from damaged nerves caused by diabetes), spinal cord injury nerve pain, and pain after shingles. In addition, it is used together with other seizure medicines to treat partial onset seizures in adults with epilepsy” (Lyrica).
How it works, however, remains a mystery. Even the company that manufactures the medicine purportedly doesn’t know how exactly it does what the results seem to show, “LYRICA is believed to work on damaged nerves, or calm overactive nerves, depending on your condition. It is unknown exactly how LYRICA works in the body. However, certain studies suggest that LYRICA reduces ‘extra’ electrical signals sent out by damaged nerves in the body” (Lyrica).
The most common side effects, according to the FDA, are dizziness, blurry vision, weight gain, sleepiness, dry mouth, trouble concentrating, and swelling of the hands and feet. Severe adverse reactions can occur as well, and this can include swelling, blistering, trouble breathing, worsening muscular pain, soreness or weakness, and fever. Every once in a while with about 1 out of 500 people, Lyrica can alter moods so much so that it can induce suicidal thoughts or actions, as well as anxiety, depression, or aggression.
These side effects are already present in fibromyalgia patients, though usually in a milder form. Given the potential additional harm in taking the medication, many patients decide it ultimately isn’t worth the risk.
Neurontin, or gabapentin, as it’s called by its common name, is usually used to treat postherpetic neuralgia (nerve pain that sometimes occurs after shingles) and epilepsy. It is not FDA-approved to treat fibromyalgia, but doctors still sometimes prescribe it to their patients in hopes to alleviate some of the shared symptoms among the illnesses. Unfortunately, Neurontin carries some of the same devastating side effects as Lyrica and in some instances may hold even worse consequences.
While the positive results from the medicine for helping fibromyalgia are not fully known, the evidence weighs in relatively heavy on its potential side effects. According to the data from the FDA, Neurontin can cause a variety of adverse reactions, but the most common ones are dizziness, sleepiness, loss of muscular control or coordination (ataxia), and involuntary eye movements. Though relatively uncommon, other potential side effects range from uncomfortable to severe, including dry mouth, headaches, tremors, viral infection, weight gain, and fever. The entire list spans over a page and can be located on the FDA’s website at www.accessdata.fda.gov .
Other Possible Considerations about Taking Medicine
Christine Lynch offers her experience dealing with fibromyalgia personally in her article “Research the Medicines; Make a List” on Fibromyalgia News Today. In addition to the commonly considered consequences of taking medicine, she also warns that certain elements in the medicine other than the active ingredients may be factors in making a decision, “If you’re as sensitive as I am, [brand] can make a difference. Although the active ingredient in a generic drug must be the same as in the brand name, dyes, fillers or coatings may differ widely from one manufacturer to another. For example, I cannot tolerate the gelatin used as the shell for many capsules. Instead, I specify an organic drug with a capsule made from cellulose” (Lynch).
In all cases, she recommends making a list of every medicine or supplement you’ve taken and include any allergies/adverse reactions and the duration and dosage. She would usually carry her list to the doctor’s office, and it would aid both her and her doctor in deciding which treatments may or may not be worth the risk.
She gives particulars for what to include in the list, saying, “If you have allergies to any medications, foods or herbs, be sure to list those first. Include the name of the drug you took and whether it was a brand name or a generic. If it was generic, also record the manufacturer’s name…Also be sure to include the dose you took and why you took it. Later, you might consider a much higher or much lower dose for a different symptom. It also is helpful to record the date. Negative drug reactions may be linked to life factors such as stress, hormonal status or other drugs in your system at that time. Lastly, you’ll want to record the length of time that elapsed before side effects first appeared. All this information is useful in knowing what to expect in the future” (Lynch).
Alternative Remedies and Valuable Input from Consumer Labs
Endless opportunities outside of prescription medicine are out there as possible treatments for fibromyalgia, including natural supplements. However, as Christine warns, all of them do not necessarily deliver what they promise, “Without government regulation, bottles of supplements don’t necessarily contain what the labels say they do” (Lynch).
To help guard against such corruption, Consumer Labs independently investigates the quality and effects of both medicinal and natural remedies. Their results are published on their website for all the world to see, and fibromyalgia patients such as Christine have greatly benefited from their findings, “I could have saved myself a lot of money over the years if I’d joined Consumer Labs sooner” (Lynch). As she notes, there is a small fee to enjoy the full website (between $2.88 and $3.50 a month depending on the subscription plan), but it has been worth the money it has saved her from ineffective treatments.
Known natural treatments to alleviate the symptoms with few or no side effects are yoga, massage therapy, acupuncture, good balanced diet (well-rounded and with limited or no caffeine, aspartame, or gluten), and essential oils. While sometimes these methods aren't enough, they can reduce some of the pain that the patient may be feeling.
Consumer Labs: https://www.consumerlab.com/index.asp
FDA Medication Guide on LYRICA: https://www.fda.gov/downloads/Drugs/DrugSafety/UCM152825.pdf
FDA Data on Neurontin (gabapentin): https://www.accessdata.fda.gov/drugsatfda_docs/label/2011/020235s036,020882s022,021129s022lbl.pdf
Fleming, Kevin C. “Fibromyalgia Treatment: Is Neurontin Effective?” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 16 Aug. 2017, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/fibromyalgia/expert-answers/fibromyalgia-treatment/faq-20058273.
Dix, Robin. “Fibromyalgia, Essential Oils, and You.” Fibromyalgia News Today, 21 Sept. 2016, www.fibromyalgianewstoday.com/blog/2016/09/20/fibromyalgia-and-essential-oils/.
Lynch, Christine. “Making the Case for Creating a Fibromyalgia Medicines List.” Fibromyalgia News Today, 5 Oct. 2017, www.fibromyalgianewstoday.com/2017/10/04/fibromyalgia-making-case-for-creating-medicines-list/.