Medications, Medications and more Medications: Fibromyalgia Medicalized

“Doctors are men who prescribe medicine of which they know little, to cure diseases of which they know less, in human beings of whom they know nothing”,Voltaire

Those of us with chronic conditions are constantly seeking relief from the myriad of symptoms that make our lives very challenging. Pain, fatigue, lack of physical abilities, sleep disturbances, depression, rashes, to name but a few of the minor to serious struggles with which we are faced lead us to desperately wanting relief in the form of medications. Living with any one of the daily distressing symptoms affects our quality of life and it is little wonder that we seek help in the form of chemicals to help us get through the day. Many, in fact, are essential to our conditions without which we could not survive. Others are prescribed from the sheer frustration of physicians who want to help but medical answers to many perplexing conditions are not yet available to them. Such is the case with fibromyalgia. What to do with a patient who has chronic pain but to prescribe a pain medication, that may or may not help? If the patient cannot sleep there is a solution: sleep medication. Depression and anxiety? Medications for altering moods.The list of medications for all sorts of conditions is limitless. Pharmaceutical companies are big booming businesses whose profits know no bounds.Physicians could not possibly remember the vast array of information that the drug reps tell them about their efficacy or that they learn about on line. More to the point ‘new’ diseases and conditions are constantly being ‘discovered’ for which new drugs must be invented. Read : The Medicalization of Everyday Life by Thomas Szasz, a psychiatrist, whose work in mental illness was compulsory reading for me as a medical sociology student in graduate school, many years ago.

The comments I receive daily from readers who are taking many medications, several for the same types of symptoms, overwhelm me. I too fell into this trap when I began taking pain medications for fibromyalgia but nothing can compare with that which I am taking (and dare not to) for heart disease.medications 001

On August 5th, 2012 Carolyn Thomas posted a blog about ten non-drug ways to treat depression in heart patients www.myheartsisters.org . The same information is appropriate for those of us with fibromyalgia and depression, yet I hear and read so many comments about the drugs that are prescribed for those of us with anxiety and depression, common symptoms of fibromyalgia. Of the many ways I am the most taken with meditation and any kind of body movement such as gentle yoga, Qigong, or Tai Chi. The combination of living moment to moment through Mindfulness Meditation and slow exercise is a gift we can give ourselves that can become habit forming but is not toxic as many of the chemicals we are taking for so many symptoms. It would seem that Big Pharma has been able to find one drug after another to counteract the side effects of each of the medications. In the meantime it is to ourselves that we must turn. If we are prescribed medications for life saving measures that is perfectly understandable, but we have so quickly fallen into the trap (myself included) of believing there is a cure through drugs for every symptom of this dis-ease.

I have gradually stopped taking Gabapentin for the pain of fibromyalgia just this past month. I am not sure if the daily 400 mgs I was taking for several years was even effective or like many who take and believe in homeopathic and  herbal remedies I believed they were helping (placebo effect). I have decreased the Melatonin from 5 mgs to 3 mgs and have not noticed a difference in my sleep patterns, so I am also questioning whether or not it is helpful. For me pain, sleep problems and fatigue are the most problematic challenges I deal with on an everyday basis. I believe if I could resolve these I would not suffer from anxiety. HOWEVER, is it a chicken and egg dilemma? If I was not in an anxiety state I would not have fibromyalgia; my central nervous system would not be hyper-aroused, I would sleep better, be less fatigued and pain would subside!  How can medications possibly resolve this conundrum?

10 Responses to “Medications, Medications and more Medications: Fibromyalgia Medicalized”

  1. Hello Barbara and thanks so much for mentioning my Heart Sisters post on “10 Non-Drug Ways to Treat Depression”. Here’s a direct link in case your readers want to find that post: http://myheartsisters.org/2011/08/05/non-drug-therapies-for-depression-in-heart-patients/

    You mentioned something critically important here about cardiac meds, that we ‘dare not” stop taking prescribed drugs once we’ve survived a heart attack. If we stop taking sleep meds, we might not sleep well (although it sounds like you haven’t found that to be the case). If we stop taking pain meds, our pain might flare up again (although so far you haven’t found that to be true either).

    But if heart attack survivors stop taking our anti-platelet drugs, for example, several studies show we’ll have a significantly higher risk of subsequent heart attacks. I’m not 100% sure about all of my cardiac meds, yet I’m frightened to stop taking them!

    Speaking of gabapentin, did you read this yet: http://ethicalnag.org/2009/11/13/gapabentin-trials/ – which includes a link to a Therapeutics Initiative overview of the drug and its marketing.

    I’m so glad to see you writing here again! Must be a sign of spring…. ;-)

    XOXO
    C.

  2. Spring? Hello dear Carolyn:
    The interesting thing I have found is that one becomes tired of whining and thinking about misery. Something like: “accepting the things I cannot change”. I can do a great deal to help myself but I will not be ‘cured’ of the two health challenges I face. My anxiety has certainly decreased over the past few months but it is always just waiting to rear its ugly head!
    “BREATE” is my constant mantra to myself. Holding my breath increases my blood pressure, pain and anxiety. About Mindfulness Meditation Dr. Kabat-Zinn says : “As long as you are breathing there is more right with you than there is wrong with you”. He points out that it is easy for us to fall prey to wanting things to be different but we must allow ourselves breathing space and to refine our capacity for awareness. It isn’t easy as I try to practice what I preach. I am always so happy to hear about MM being taught in schools of nursing, medicine, dentistry and inner city schools and even in business places.
    Not really a sign of spring, Carolyn, just a great deal of MM practice these past few months. Spring in Nova Scotia has not yet arrived, as if it ever did! We go from winter to summer.

  3. Valda Garner says:

    Hi Barbara, I have found the less I feel in control the more anxiety I experience. I also seem to have fewer coping mechanisms for some of the daily stressors and this adds to my anxiety. The more anxiety I experience the worse my chronic illness symptoms become. The ill effects of altering cardiac medications without the expertise of a physician are more readily noticed and can be life threatening. The ill effects of insomnia are more tolerated in the short run, but getting enough good sleep has dire consequences too. There is so little known about sleep, but it is as critical as a nourishing diet. I too have limited the medications that I take and I have adjusted doseages to a minimum in partnership with my doctor. Combining Western Medicine with the wisdom of the East is a good marriage for better pain control, anxiety control and for a happier life. To live in the “here and now” is a beneficial practice that keeps us moving forward. I’m careful about how much reminiscing I do since that interferes with creating new memories from today’s experiences. I think of you often and follow your blog, because you always deliver a post that is thought provoking. I am hoping you find yourself well and that spring comes to you soon. Fondly, Valda

  4. Thank you so much Valda. Your comments are of course right on! Anxiety is based on fear and the more the amygdala is aroused the more anxiety we have! Mine is life long and I suspect most who suffer from fibromyalgia also have a lifetime of anxiety. But, we can indeed change our brain pathways even though it takes hard work and discipline…that is the good news!
    Regards, Barbara

  5. This is my 1st visit to your website and I am finding it to be very informative. I to have suffered throughout the years with chronic muscle & joint pain, having an anxiety disorder, depression, sleep deprivation, and coping day by day is such hard work. One becomes paranoid about mentioning how you feel to family and friends when I try to explain how I feel. “Oh” that is just all in your head..and I feel totally alone. As of late my difficulties are worsening and I fear that I am headed for a breakdown. I would dearly love to meet a female medical doctor who has the same symtoms that we do. Perhaps then one would be able to cope with this unpredicatable condition. All the medications used out there scare me to death. I do not know what to believe or not to believe. I get so very anxious that I can not remember where I put things, concentrating for any length of time is overwhelming. I look forward to hearing from any one out there that can help me. This has been going on since I was a young 22 yr old to now being a helpless 69 yr. old woman. Life passes me by and I surely would like to enjoy the years I have left.

  6. Dear Lynne: You are not alone. Suffering from a chronic dis-ease and being an older woman can be very challenging. Having suffered a heart attack this year I have learned that I can push myself in spite of the pain of exercise. Beginning slowly I would recommend a little walk of 5 minutes a day increasing 5 minutes each week. As much as the sense of accomplishment, the physical movement is so helpful to painful muscles. Along with the movement 5 minutes a day just sitting quietly and being ‘in the moment’ is almost as helpful as any medications for relaxation.
    Please do not despair as you are a strong woman who can do these small things that can help…movement and meditation DOES help those of us with fibromyalgia. It isn’t easy but there are no other solutions!
    Very best wishes,
    Barbara

  7. Rosann Barker says:

    I have had this for more than 25 years and refuse to take medication up to this point. I will tell you it has not been easy, but I will not allow myself to fall into that trap. Recently I heard of “Bio-identical Hormone Replacement Therapy(HRT)” and I was wondering if you have any knowledge of this. I have read some articles on HRTs and there seems to be some differences in Bio-identical HRT and other HRTs. From what I have read if I pursue that route I will only entertain the bio-Identical type of HRT. I would appreciate some insight from you and others who view your site, if they are willing to share.

  8. Dear Rosann: I am not sure what you are asking. Are you suggesting that HRT is being used for fibromyalgia? If so, I have not heard of this …perhaps other readers have?
    regards,
    Barbara

  9. Ann says:

    HRT is generally referring to replacing estrogen-related hormones whose levels decline in perimenopause/menopause for women. The current consensus seems to be that there is no direct correlation between hormone deficiencies (estrogen-related or otherwise) and fibromyalgia. But if you do have a hormone deficiency, it will make you feel worse regardless of and in addition to fibromyalgia. Personally I am in favor of HRT for quality-of-life improvements, whether ‘bio-identical’ or not (the ‘bio-identical’ treatments may be a bit more optimal, but do tend to be more expensive, so for those who can’t afford it, in my opinion non-bio-identical is still much better than nothing).

    PS: There have been some HRT-cancer-scare studies ridiculously overhyped in the media over the past decade, but for those who make an effort to seek out the lesser-known responses/analyses to those studies, there are multiple reasons to disregard the hyped-up studies’ conclusions.

  10. Dear Ann: It is interesting that for several decades HRT was given such bad press and it seemed there was a correlation between heart disease and HRT. Then more recently there has been more research that suggests the opposite. It is so difficult for us all to make choices.
    Years ago eggs were thought to be bad for us now we are encouraged to eat more of them; the same is true about dairy.
    Science based approaches to health are difficult to accept if results are changed over time. It gets confusing. I guess we have to trust our own intuition and become the expert of our own bodies.
    I would neither encourage nor discourage women to take or use estrogen, even if plant based rather than chemically developed. These are individual decisions that we each have to make after reading the current data and making informed decisions.
    I really appreciate your comments on this and other blogs!
    Thank you,
    Barbara

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