An estimated 10 million Americans live with fibromyalgia, a condition that causes widespread, chronic pain. Unfortunately, little is known about this often debilitating illness. However, researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) in Galveston have found that a common diabetes drug (metformin) may be able to reduce pain levels in fibromyalgia patients.
What is fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia causes pain throughout the body, sometimes severe enough to make it hard for a person to function. The condition is thought to keep the body in a constant state of fight-or-flight, which can lead to tense, sore muscles and decreased energy.
The pain felt with fibromyalgia can be described in a variety of ways, including dull, sharp, deep, aching, and throbbing. More importantly, it can be different for every patient. Some people may experience flare-ups of pain that can last for days or months. Other people may experience pain that travels throughout the body on a regular basis.
For these reasons, fibromyalgia is notoriously hard to diagnose. Currently, the only method for diagnosis is using the process of elimination, which is not optimal for patients, doctors, or insurers. This method can be trying for the patient, and costs the American healthcare system over $100 billion annually. However, UTMB researchers have discovered an interesting link between high blood sugar and fibromyalgia.
In the study, researchers split participants into two groups: one group with confirmed fibromyalgia diagnoses, and the other without. When comparing simple A1c results between the two (a blood test which measures the average blood sugar from the past two or three months), the results were clear and surprising. Those with fibromyalgia had significantly higher blood sugar levels.
Although the vast majority of these people did not have blood sugar high enough to be considered diabetes, it did encourage researchers to use a common diabetes medication (metformin) to lower their blood sugar levels. As a result, the majority of the patients with fibromyalgia who were given metformin experienced a dramatic decrease in their overall pain.
Dr. Miguel Pappolla, UTMB professor of neurology and the study author said, “Earlier studies discovered that insulin resistance causes dysfunction within the brain’s small blood vessels. Since this issue is also present in fibromyalgia, we investigated whether insulin resistance is the missing link in the disorder. We showed that most–if not all–patients with fibromyalgia can be identified by their A1c levels.”
Fibromyalgia symptoms and causes
The most commonly reported fibromyalgia symptoms include widespread pain, fatigue, and cognitive difficulties, like forgetfulness and brain fog.
Other fibromyalgia symptoms include:
- Generalized pain and tenderness in muscles, joints, tendons, and ligaments
- Insomnia and shallow, restless sleep
- Anxiety and/or depression
- Morning stiffness
- Numbness and tingling in the extremities
- Headaches or migraines
- Frequent urination and/or incontinence
- Painful menstrual cramps
- Irritable bowel syndrome
Researchers have yet to identify definitive causes of fibromyalgia, but triggering factors could be infections, genetics, or physical and emotional distress.
Discovering the link between fibromyalgia and diabetes is a promising, cost-effective breakthrough in treating the condition, but the connection needs to be researched further.