Cymbalta belongs in a group of drugs called selective serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SSNRIs). It works by affecting the chemicals in the brain that may become unbalanced and cause depression. Cymbalta has been used to treat many major depressive disorders and general anxiety disorders, and has also been used to treat chronic pain caused by nerve damage in diabetics, musculoskeletal pain from osteoarthritis and chronic back pain. Eli Lilly (the drug’s manufacturer) made $9 billion in revenue from Cymbalta in 2009.
Cymbalta is similar to selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), which prevent the brain from absorbing serotonin that has already been released. Serotonin gives people a sense of well-being, so preventing re-absorption alleviates negative feelings. The SSNRIs and SSRIs differ because SSNRIs also prevent the re-absorption of norepinephrine which can regulate stress.
Initially, Cymbalta was approved to treat peripheral neuropathy—which is the most common complication that goes along with diabetes. Peripheral neuropathy affects 62 percent of diabetics in the United States. Patients that suffer from this disorder report that they have burning, tingling and numbing sensations in their feet, legs and hands. These side effects can be so severe that it can lead to complete physical disability.
Cymbalta has also been used to treat major depression, a condition that affects millions of people in America. Major depression is a severe form of depression, but does not have the usual side effects such as mood swings and it has been seen to affect the patient’s life more dramatically than other disorders.
Although it was not approved by the FDA, doctors also prescribed Cymbalta for treatment of stress urinary incontinence (SUI). This use was actually approved in the European Union. In one study conducted by Eli Lilly, a women taking the drug committed suicide after taking Cymbalta for SUI. The woman had no history of depression before starting the drug and had been taken off of Cymbalta and given placebos four days before she killed herself in a bathroom at the clinic.
One study looked at 9,000 women who were taking Cymbalta to treat SUI. In this study, it was found that 11 of these women tried to commit suicide.
Research has shown that Cymbalta causes suicidal thoughts and behaviors, heart-related side effects and other complications. In 2006, the FDA added a “black box” warning to Cymbalta, warning patients about dangerous side effects.
In the early 1990s, reports began linking Cymbalta to suicidal thoughts and behaviors. These were especially seen in children and young adults, who were more prone to become hostile, irrational, violent or suicidal when taking antidepressants. In 2006, the FDA reviewed the results of 372 different studies on antidepressants, finding that young adults were also negatively affected by the use of these medications.
Another study conducted at Duke University linked the use of Cymbalta to a higher risk of death in patients who suffered from coronary artery disease. It is unknown why antidepressants increase the mortality rate in patients that use them, but the statistics have shown over and over that this is a valid link—especially in patients that suffer from different heart diseases.
Serious Side Effects may include:
- Nausea, pain in your upper stomach, itching, loss of appetite, dark urine, clay-colored stools, jaundice (yellowing of the skin or eyes).
- Feeling like you might pass out
- Agitation, hallucinations, fever, fast heart rate, overactive reflexes
- Very stiff (rigid) muscles, high fever, sweating, confusion, fast or uneven heartbeats, tremors
- Easy bruising, unusual bleeding
- Painful or difficult urination
- Headache, trouble concentrating, memory problems, weakness, feeling unsteady, loss of coordination, fainting, seizure, shallow breathing or breathing that stops.
- Severe skin reaction:- fever, sore throat, swelling in your face or tongue, burning in your eyes, skin pain, followed by a red or purple skin rash that spreads (especially in the face or upper body) and causes blistering and peeling.
Less serious side effects may include:
- Dry mouth
- Tired feeling
- Mild nausea or loss of appetite