For many years, patients struggling with fibromyalgia, a little-understood chronic pain condition, had no prescription drug options specifically approved for the treatment of their condition.
An estimated six to twelve million American adults were forced to try over the counter treatments, opioid drugs, steroids, and other treatments to pain relief, all with little to no results.
Patients with chronic neuropathic pain (approximately ten percent of the population) also struggled to find viable treatment options.
Patients with these conditions may have heard of a medication called Lyrica, which was first introduced to the U.S. market in 2004. If your doctor has suggested that you try Lyrica, you may be wondering “what is Lyrica used for?”
What is Lyrica?
Lyrica was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2004 for the treatment of neuropathic pain, such as diabetic nerve pain and spinal cord injury nerve pain. In 2007, Lyrica became the first drugs approved by the FDA for the treatment of fibromyalgia.
Lyrica belongs to a class of medications called anticonvulsants and is also used to treat fibromyalgia, for pain relief after shingles, and partial onset seizures.
Lyrica is popular because it works by slowing down the messages and impulses in the brain that cause seizures, similar to the mechanisms of antiepileptic drugs, and it can also work on the chemicals that send pain signals throughout the body.
What is Lyrica used for?
Lyrica, known by the generic name pregabalin, is approved by the FDA for the treatment of neuropathic pain, diabetic nerve pain, spinal cord injury nerve pain, and pain relief after shingles, as well as fibromyalgia and partial onset seizures.
A brief explanation of each of the conditions treated by Lyrica is provided below.
Neuropathic pain is pain that is usually chronic. It can be caused by both progressive nerve disease, such as diabetic neuropathy, as well as injury or infection, such as the pain that results from a spinal cord injury or following a shingles infection.
Patients with neuropathic pain may experience flare ups in their pain without any warning or obvious factors. An estimated ten percent of Americans experience neuropathic pain in some form, and about 20 percent of all chronic pain is neuropathic pain.
The Cleveland Clinic reports that diabetes is to blame for approximately 30 percent of neuropathic pain; thankfully, Lyrica is often used to treat this diabetic nerve pain and other types of neuropathic pain like peripheral neuropathy. Although most neuropathic pain is not caused by infection, shingles is one of the few diseases that can cause neuropathic pain.
Shingles commonly causes neuropathic pain for several weeks, but it can also cause persistent neuropathic pain that lasts long after the disease is gone.
Fibromyalgia is a type of chronic pain that causes pain in all parts of the body. Difficulty sleeping, fatigue, and mental and emotional distress often accompany the physical pain caused by fibromyalgia.
At least six million American adults suffer from fibromyalgia, and the cause of the condition is unknown. People are more likely to experience fibromyalgia as they age or if they have conditions like lupus or rheumatoid arthritis, and women are more likely to suffer from the condition than men.
It is believed that people with fibromyalgia can sometimes be more sensitive to pain than those without the condition, which is called abnormal pain processing.
Although the cause of the condition is unknown, Lyrica can help patients with fibromyalgia manage their symptoms under the medical advice of their physician.
Partial Onset Seizures
Partial onset seizures, sometimes called focal onset aware seizures, are treated by Lyrica when the medication is used in conjunction with other drugs.
A focal onset seizure occurs when a person with epilepsy has abnormal brain activity on only one side of the brain. During a partial onset seizure, the individual does not experience a loss of awareness of their surroundings, and they have a full memory of the seizure.
Partial onset seizures sometimes cause the person experiencing the seizure to “freeze” in place, which may limit their ability to respond to external stimuli, but they regain the ability to respond when the seizure is over. Partial onset seizures typically last less than two minutes.
What are the side effects of Lyrica?
Side effects associated with Lyrica generally do not require medical attention.
The most common side effects associated with Lyrica are dizziness and drowsiness; these two side effects of pregabalin are known to increase in likelihood with higher doses of the medication.
Common side effects associated with Lyrica that usually do not require medical attention include:
- Peripheral edema
- Weight gain
- Accidental injury
- Blurred vision
- Visual field loss
Less common side effects associated with Lyrica that usually do not require medical attention include:
- Abnormal gait
- Dry mouth
- Speech disturbance
- Visual disturbance
- Abnormality in thinking
- Cognitive dysfunction
- Increased appetite
In some cases, Lyrica may cause more serious side effects that require medical attention. Less common but more serious side effects requiring medical attention include:
- Chest pain
- Cool, pale skin
- Difficult or labored breathing
- Noisy breathing
- Trouble breathing
- Tightness in the chest
- Cold sweats
- Cough producing mucus
- Muscle aches, jerking or twitching, or weakness
Rare side effects associated with Lyrica that require medical attention include:
- Blistering, peeling, or loosening of the skin
- Hives, itching, skin rash, blisters, and other allergic reactions
- Swelling or puffing of the eyelids or on the face
- Red, irritated eyes
- Sores, ulcers, or white spots in the mouth or on the lips
- Bloating or swelling
- Difficulty swallowing
- Fast heartbeat
- Joint or muscle pain
- Red skin lesions
- Sore throat
- Unusual tiredness or weakness
- Heart failure
- Breathing problems
- Panic attacks
How much does Lyrica cost?
Prior to the approval of generic versions of Lyrica (pregabalin) in July 2019, Lyrica was extremely expensive for most people, even with health insurance.
Today, the cost of the generic form of the medication is about 80 dollars for 30 capsules, representing a savings of nearly 70 percent off the brand name prescription manufactured by the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer.
What are the benefits of using Lyrica?
The biggest benefit in using Lyrica is that the medication is effective in treating nerve pain that does not respond to treatment from other medications.
It is unknown how exactly Lyrica works, but several weeks after taking the drug, patients’ perceptions of pain are reduced.
It is believed that Lyrica binds to a portion of the nerve cell that is responsible for the heightened sensitivity to pain experienced by some patients with fibromyalgia and neuropathic pain.
What are the risks of using Lyrica?
Lyrica is a highly effective medication for the treatment of neuropathic pain, fibromyalgia, and partial onset seizures, but it is not without risk.
Patients with any of the following medical conditions should discuss their medical history with their doctors prior to taking Lyrica:
- History of depression, mood disorders, or suicidal thoughts or behaviors
- Heart problems
- Bleeding problems or a low platelet count
- Kidney problems
- History of prescription or street drug abuse or alcohol abuse
- History of angioedema (swelling of the face, neck, or throat)
- Planning to father a child in the future
When used with ACE inhibitors, which are used to treat a variety of conditions including high blood pressure, taking Lyrica can increase your risk of swelling and allergic reactions like hives.
Lyrica may also interact with other drugs, including Avandia (rosiglitazone), Actos (pioglitazone), Avandamet (rosiglitazone and metformin), by increasing your chance of gaining weight or experiencing swelling in the hands or feet.
Lyrica should not be taken with opioid medications, as it can lead to increased drowsiness and dizziness, breathing problems, as well as a reduction of central nervous system activity that can cause death in certain circumstances.
Additionally, patients with pre-existing kidney disease or who are at risk for congestive heart failure should discuss with their doctor if pregabalin is appropriate under these circumstances.
Be sure to give your doctor and pharmacist a complete medical history, as well as a list of all over the counter drugs, prescription medications, vitamins, supplements, and herbs that you are using to ensure no severe drug interactions exist.
Is Lyrica safe for pregnant and nursing women?
Not enough research has been done about Lyrica’s use in pregnant and nursing women to determine if the medication is safe, though there has been recent input by experts that there may be birth defects linked to Lyrica use during pregnancy.
Therefore, Lyrica should only be used by pregnant or nursing women when the benefit clearly outweighs the risk. Lyrica does pass through breast milk, but the effects on nursing infants are still unknown.
Therefore, it is recommended that pregnant or nursing women talk to their doctors before taking Lyrica, especially women who plan to breast-feed while on the drug.
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Chris is one of the Co-Founders of Pharmacists.org. An entrepreneur at heart, Chris has been building and writing in consumer health for over 10 years. In addition to Pharmacists.org, Chris and his Acme Health LLC Brand Team own and operate Diabetic.org and the USA Rx Pharmacy Discount Card powered by Pharmacists.org.
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