Treating your fibromyalgia syndrome is an ongoing and sometimes frustrating process. There are so many different treatments available that it can be overwhelming trying to select the right one for you. Often, medications to relieve fibromyalgia symptoms cause unwanted side effects that are even worse than the pain itself. If you are having trouble finding an effective fibromyalgia medication, you may be interested in trying transdermal medications. These act fast to relieve stiff and aching muscles but cause fewer side effects than other types of medications.
What are Transdermal Medications?
Transdermal medications work differently than most other fibromyalgia medications. Instead of being taken orally, transdermal medications are applied to the skin. Over time, these medications penetrate the skin and enter the bloodstream, providing fast and long-lasting relief.
There are a variety of different types of transdermal medications. You are probably already familiar with topical transdermal medications, simply referred to as "topicals". These consist of creams, gels, and ointments that you apply to different areas of your skin. Topicals are available in both over-the-counter and prescription forms. The patch is a newer form of transdermal medication. Introduced in 1980, the patch works just like topicals - by releasing a steady stream of medicine into the body via the skin. Instead of coming in cream form though, these medicines are worn as a patch on the body.
How Transdermal Medications Work
Transdermal medications are all based on the same premise: they use the skin as a way of entering the body. The skin is actually your body’s largest organ. It is responsible for performing a variety of tasks to keep you healthy, including regulating body temperature and controlling fluid loss. The skin consists of many layers, which are interconnected by a network of blood vessels. As transdermal medications penetrate the skin, they slowly enter the bloodstream, providing steady relief of pain symptoms.
Transdermal medications also work by operating on nerve endings in your skin. Your skin is covered in miniscule nerve endings, which receive a variety of different messages about the environment around you. These nerve endings often receive pain messages, which are then sent to your spinal cord where they are amplified. Transdermal pain medications prevent these nerve endings from picking up on such pain signals.
Advantages of Transdermal Medications
Transdermal medications are rapidly becoming popular among fibromyalgia sufferers. This is because they offer numerous advantages that oral medications do not. Benefits of transdermals include:
- ease of application
- longer-lasting pain relief
- fewer side effects
Types of Transdermal Medications for Fibromyalgia Patients
Topicals have long been used to treat fibromyalgia pain, but they are often overlooked as genuine pain medications. Here are some topicals to ask your health care provider about.
Zonalon Cream (5% Doxepin)
Zonalon cream contains the medication doxepin, which is a tricyclic antidepressant. It works to relieve pain by blocking sodium channels and NMDA receptors that are involved in sending and receiving pain messages. Zonalon cream also stimulates your body’s natural opioid receptors, enhancing pain relief. Studies show that fibromyalgia patients who used Zonalon cream experienced significant relief of muscle pain. Zonalon cream takes about 3 weeks to become effective. It can be applied up to 4 times a day. Side effects include: dry mouth, skin rash, headache, nausea, and drowsiness.
Menthol is often used in over-the-counter topical medications. Menthols works to block by pain by activating kappa opioid receptors in your body, providing natural pain relief. When applied, menthol creates a cool, tingling sensation, soothing the affected area. After a while, the menthol begins to warm up, providing relief from stiff muscles. When used over time, menthol actually increases your pain threshold. Possible medication side effects may include allergy and skin inflammation.
Transdermal patches are relatively new to the medical world, but they have taken off in the past few years. They are less messy than topicals but provide the same pain relief. Here are some popular patches for fibromyalgia.
The fentanyl patch, sold under the name Duragesic, is used to provide pain relief for up to 72 hours. It is an opioid pain relief medication and therefore recommended for use in those peole already using opiods therapy and have shown opiod tolerance. Fentanyl binds to receptors in the body encouraging pain relief. The patch takes about 12 hours to work, as the drug must build up in the bloodstream before it becomes effective. However, it can be worn safely for up to 72 hours. The fentanyl patch causes fewer side effects than oral opioids because it bypasses the stomach, eliminating nausea, constipation, and diarrhea. Possible side effects may include: dizziness, lightheadedness, weakness, and shortness of breath.
Lidoderm Patch (5% lidocaine)
The lidoderm patch releases a continuous supply of lidocaine, an anesthetic, into the skin. Lidocaine inhibits pain by blocking pain signals before they reach the brain. In recent studies, fibromyalgia sufferers using the lidoderm patch reported reduced pain symptoms and increased ability to sleep after just 3 weeks. Up to three patches can be applied within a 12 hour period. Possible side effects include skin irritation and swelling.