Anti-Seizure Drugs for Fibromyalgia
Fibromyalgia is a serious medical condition that causes widespread pain and a myriad of other symptoms in its sufferers. Furthermore, it is notoriously difficult to treat. In recent years, some doctors have started prescribing anti-seizure drugs for fibromyalgia. But how do they work and are they actually effective? Here’s all you need to know about fibromyalgia and anti-seizure drugs.
What Is Fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia is a common and debilitating medical condition. Its main symptom is widespread pain, affecting many areas of the body at once. It also has a range of other symptoms, including:
- Increased sensitivity to touch
- Muscle stiffness
- Sleep problems
- Poor memory or concentration (known as “fibro fog”)
- Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
Unfortunately, scientists still do not understand exactly what causes fibromyalgia. Therefore, it is very challenging to treat.
One theory is that fibromyalgia occurs as a result of too much activity in the central nervous system. This includes imbalances in several neurotransmitters, including serotonin, norepinephrine, dopamine and substance P.
It is thought that these neurochemical imbalances make people with fibromyalgia highly sensitive to pain and other sensations. They may also contribute to other symptoms such as poor sleep and depression.
Fibromyalgia is very common, affecting as many as 1 in 20 people to some extent. It is more widespread in women and often occurs between the ages of 30 and 50.
What Are Anti-Seizure Drugs?
Anti-seizure drugs are sometimes known as anticonvulsant drugs or antiepileptic drugs. As the name suggests, they help to control seizures in people with epilepsy.
However, since the 1960s, doctors have also been using this medication to treat pain. They are especially useful for neuropathic pain, which does not respond well to regular painkillers like acetaminophen or anti-inflammatory drugs.
More recently, doctors have started prescribing anti-seizure drugs for fibromyalgia. They work by slowing down signals in the central nervous system to reduce pain and improve sleep. Some people say that they also help with fatigue.
How Are Anti-Seizure Drugs Used to Treat Fibromyalgia?
There are many different anti-seizure drugs, but the two most commonly used for fibromyalgia are called gabapentin (Neurontin) and pregabalin (Lyrica).
These medications have a similar chemical structure to the neurotransmitter gamma amino-butyric acid (GABA). This allows them to bind to nerve cells, altering the way they use calcium, a vital element in nerve signaling.
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These anti-seizure drugs help to reduce the levels of several other neurotransmitters, including glutamate, norepinephrine and substance P. This slows down nerve signals in the brain and spinal cord to relieve fibromyalgia symptoms like pain.
Although both gabapentin and pregabalin work in a similar way, pregabalin is the more potent of the two. Therefore, people tend to take it at lower doses than gabapentin.
Some of the most common side effects of these anti-seizure drugs include:
- Swollen hands or feet
- Blurred vision
- Reduced coordination
Because of their tendency to cause dizziness and drowsiness, people who take these medications should take extra care when driving or operating machinery.
Are Anti-Seizure Drugs Effective for Fibromyalgia?
Unfortunately, anti-seizure drugs are not effective for everyone with fibromyalgia. In fact, research suggests that only 1 in 10 to 1 in 4 people will experience significant relief. A high percentage of people will also suffer from adverse side effects.
Due to the low effectiveness of anti-seizure drugs for fibromyalgia, combined with the high risk of side effects, patients must weigh up their options carefully.
It is thought that these medications might be more effective when patients use them in combination with other therapies. These include aerobic exercise and psychological therapy. However, more research is necessary to confirm precisely how effective this combination would be.
Pros and Cons of Anti-Seizure Drugs for Fibromyalgia
As you can see, there are several pros and cons of taking anti-seizure drugs for fibromyalgia. We have summarized them below.
The Pros of Anti-Seizure Drugs
- Slows down signals in the central nervous system to relieve pain.
- May also offer relief from other fibromyalgia symptoms like poor sleep and fatigue.
- Anti-seizure medications may work best in combination with exercise and psychological therapy.
The Cons of Anti-Seizure Drugs
- Only a small percentage of people will experience good pain relief.
- Although research found some benefits for sleep, there were no significant improvements in fatigue.
- Anti-seizure medications have a long list of side effects, including dizziness, drowsiness, impaired coordination, and more.
There are plenty of risks associated with taking anti-seizure drugs for fibromyalgia. However, with a lack of other effective treatment options, they may be worth a try.
Anyone considering using anti-seizure drugs for fibromyalgia should have an in-depth discussion with their physician before going ahead. They will help you determine whether the benefits outweigh the risks and whether anti-seizure drugs can work for you.