Conference Coverage

Expert: There’s no single treatment for fibromyalgia



There are many potential treatments for fibromyalgia, but a large number of them – NSAIDs, opioids, cannabis and more – come with caveats and nothing beats an old stand-by: physical rehabilitation.

With exercise, “we’re getting the muscles moving, and we’re getting [patients] used to stimulation that will hopefully deaden that pain response over time,” David E.J. Bazzo, MD, said at Pain Care for Primary Care. Still, “it’s going to take multiple things to best treat your patients.”

Fibromyalgia is unique, said Dr. Bazzo, professor of family medicine and public health at the University of California, San Diego. Diagnosis is based on self-reported symptoms since no laboratory tests are available. For diagnostic criteria, he recommends those released by the American College of Rheumatology in 2010 and 2011 and updated in 2016. The criteria, he said, recognize the importance of cognitive symptoms, unrefreshing sleep, fatigue, and certain somatic symptoms (Semin Arthritis Rheum. 2016;46[3]:319-29).

Poor sleep is an especially important problem in fibromyalgia, Dr. Bazzo said, although it’s “a bit of a chicken-and-egg discussion.” It’s not clear which comes first, but “we know that both happen hand-in-hand. We need to work on people’s sleep as one of the primary targets.”

When it comes to treatment, “you have to validate this person’s symptoms and say, ‘Yes, I believe you. I know that you are suffering, and that you’re having pain,’ ” Dr. Bazzo said at the meeting held by the American Pain Society and Global Academy for Medical Education. He advised clinicians to keep in mind conditions that can accompany fibromyalgia, such as depression, that may require other treatment options.

Dr. Bazzo offered advice about these approaches to treatment:

  • Exercise. Research supports treadmill and cycle ergometry (BMJ 2002;325:185).
  • Opioids. “There’s no convincing evidence that opioids have a role in treating fibromyalgia initially. If you’ve tried everything and patients have had problems, are just not responsive or had side effects, you could consider opioids. But that should be at the tail end of everything because the data is not there,” he said.
  • Tramadol. “It’s like an opioid with potential for addiction,” he said. “Don’t just use it willy-nilly. Make sure you have a reason and a good plan. Would it be my first thing? No. Is it something that I keep in my back pocket when other things aren’t working? Perhaps. Would I use it before an opioid? For sure.”
  • Second-line therapies. According to Dr. Bazzo, these include antiepileptics such as gabapentin and pregabalin, low-dose cyclobenzaprine, and dual reuptake inhibitors such as duloxetine. There are many other second-line options, he said, from behavioral approaches to yoga to guided physical therapy.
  • NSAIDs. Not helpful.
  • Cannabis. May interact with other medications.
  • Pain clinics. Make sure you refer patients to a pain clinic that embraces a multidisciplinary approach, he said, not one that only offers “pain pills or shots.”

Dr. Bazzo reported no relevant conflicts of interest. The Global Academy for Medical Education and this news organization are owned by the same parent company.

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