Cough Syrup Alleviates Chronic Pain

Dextromethorphan has been batted about as a helpful pain reliever in healthy adults and in fibromyalgia patients. Now a small study confirms that this medication, typically used for calming a nagging cough, may just alleviate the chronic pain associated with fibromyalgia.

Cough Suppressant

Researchers discovered that the cough suppressant called dextromethophan gave temporary reduction in pain perception in healthy adults and in fibromyalgia patients. It seems that dextromethorphan works because it stops a chemical messenger called NMDA, which has partial responsibility for relaying pain signals to the human brain.

The researchers caution that fibromyalgia patients shouldn't take this as license to abuse over-the-counter (OTC) cough suppressants. The study's lead author issued a statement to that effect, "Like every medication, dextromethorphan has side effects. At high doses, patients can have problems related to memory and confusion."

But Staud is pleased that these findings lead the way to more intense evaluation of dextromethorphan's effects on fibromyalgia and other medical conditions that are associated with a heightened sensitivity to pain.  Staud and his colleagues also believe that the results of this study may have experts reevaluating their theories as to the origins of fibromyalgia pain. Roland Staud is an associate professor of medicine at Gainesville's University of Florida.

Sensory Processing

Fibromyalgia is a condition causing widespread muscle tenderness and pain, sleep difficulties, and fatigue. The condition is diagnosed by having a certain number of specific points of tenderness on the body. While no one is sure what causes fibromyalgia, most experts believe that sufferers experience heightened pain signals stemming from a defect of the central nervous system which causes abnormal sensory processing.

Some experts postulate that the type of fibromyalgia pain known as "wind-up pain," during which repeated touching intensifies the sensation of pain, stems from a malfunction of the area of the spinal cord that deals with NMDA. However, dextromethorphan was shown to be effective in women with and without fibromyalgia during Staud's trial. Dextromethorphan is known to work on the NMDA receptors. This tells us that the theory suggesting that the NMDA system is altered in fibromyalgia patients carries little weight.

Staud believes that dextromethorphan may come into its own as a treatment for chronic pain. "What this really means for chronic pain patients is that they need to use a whole host of different interventions to decrease the pain they have," said Staud. "And in this, dextromethorphan may have a role in the future."

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