For some fibromyalgia sufferers, the pain is so bad, they find themselves incapacitated, spending most of their time lying on the couch or in bed. Just accepting a hug from a child or spouse causes intense discomfort. But a clinical trial begun in the spring of 2008 has participants rejoining the human race. One woman from the Stanford University School of Medicine trial has found enough relief to enable her to go back to the workplace where she does interior decoration. She even managed to take the lead in a fundraising project at her daughters’ school. “I am really, really good,” said Tara Campbell. “Having said that, I’m still not one hundred percent. I’m still not that person I was before.”
Lucky Tara Campbell was one of only 10 participants in a beginning research study for women with fibromyalgia. The Stanford study was carried out over a period of 14 weeks with the purpose of testing an off-label use for a drug known as naltrexone. Naltrexone’s traditional use is as a treatment for opioid addiction, but has been found to relieve pain and fatigue in low doses. In general, 30% of the women in the trial found low dose naltrexone more effective than the placebo. This is according to the results posted to the April 17, 2009 online journal, Pain Medicine.
Senior author of the study, Sean Mackey, MD, PhD, an associate professor of anesthesia and chief of Stanford University Medical Center’s pain management division said, “Patients’ reactions were really quite profound,” and noted that many participants made the decision to stop taking their other medications. Others, like Tara, found themselves at last able to return to the workplace. There was an overall marked improvement in quality of life for these fibromyalgia sufferers.
In spite of these encouraging results, Mackey and colleagues are still hesitant to recommend the drug at this early stage of testing. Mackey expressed the fact that he and his team are excited about the results of the trial, but believe that longer studies with more patients are necessary for any kind of conclusion about the effectiveness of low dose naltrexone to be formed. To this end, the researchers are moving onward with a 16-week trial for 30 participants.
The report at Pain Medicine stated that this first study is important because there aren’t many medications on the market to treat fibromyalgia symptoms and also because low dose naltrexone is a bargain at a cost of some $40 per month. Low dose naltrexone also carries few side effects. Some of the participants described very graphic, lifelike dreams while taking the medication.
Fibromyalgia is still fighting its reputation as a controversial diagnosis. The condition is characterized by chronic muscle pain and fatigue. Those in the medical community on the side of treating the condition believe it may affect as many as 4% of the overall population. Lead author of the study, Jarred Younger, PhD, who teaches anesthesia and pain management at Stanford said, “The symptoms of fibromyalgia are commonly seen in a number of other diseases, and there is no well-established and objective blood test to confirm the diagnosis. In the meantime, new treatments that work particularly well for fibromyalgia go a long way toward validating the usefulness of the diagnosis.”