A bottle of generic delayed-release Duloxetine (Cymbalta) 30 mg

Cymbalta was originally approved by the FDA in 2004 for the treatment of major depression. It is officially an SNRI-type antidepressant. In doctorspeak that means it is a serotonin-norepinehprine reuptake inhibitor and is somewhat similar to other antidepressants such as Effexor (venlafaxine) and Pristiq (desvenlafaxine).

The FDA also approved Cymbalta to treat nerve pain associated with diabetes in 2004. In 2007 the drug got a green light for anxiety and in 2008 the FDA agreed that it could ease the discomfort associated with fibromyalgia. It was also approved to treat musculoskeletal pain associated with arthritis and lower back pain in 2010. In other words, here was a drug that could relieve your blues and your aches and pains. And the drug company that makes Cymbalta (Lilly) has been aggressively marketing it as a good way to deal with chronic low back pain and osteoarthritis. Perhaps you have seen the commercials on TV promoting the pain relieving power of the drug with the slogan “Cymbalta can help.” It sounds almost too good to be true.

Ah…and there is the rub. Although there is a long list of serious side effects mentioned during the commercial, the video images seem quite reassuring and trump the scary message the FDA requires for this medication. So, let’s set the record straight. Here, without visual interference, are a list of potential complications associated with this medication.

Cymbalta (Duloxetine) Side Effects

  • Nausea, stomach pain, constipation, diarrhea, decreased appetite, vomiting
  • Dry mouth
  • Insomnia, anxiety, tremor
  • Dizziness, fatigue, sleepiness
  • Sweating, hot flashes
  • Blurred vision
  • Headache
  • Sexual dysfunction, lowered libido, erection difficulties, lack of orgasm
  • Liver damage
  • Serious skin reactions, rash, hives (requires immediate MD assistance!)
  • Glaucoma
  • Irregular heart rhythms
  • Bleeding problems
  • Blood pressure problems
  • Interaction with other drugs (leading to serotonin syndrome among other reactions)
  • Pneumonia
  • Seizures
  • Depressed mood, suicidal thoughts and behavior, suicide

Such a long list of side effects makes your eyes glaze over after the top 3 or 4. That is why we have included stories from real people so you can better understand what these complications feel like.

Even though such side effects are scary, there is another problem with Cymbalta. When people try to stop taking this drug they frequently report unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. An organization (QuarterWatch) that monitors the FDA’s database of serious adverse drug events has noted that:

“We observed a signal for serious drug withdrawal symptoms associated with duloxetine (CYMBALTA), a widely used antidepressant that is also approved to treat arthritis and back pain, anxiety, and fibromyalgia. In the first quarter of 2012 the FDA received 48 case reports of drug withdrawal identifying duloxetine as the suspect drug. They described a wide spectrum of withdrawal effects that began when the patients stopped the drug, including blackouts, suicidal thoughts, tremor, and nausea. Several cases involved hospitalization.

Probing deeper into the scientific record for duloxetine we found that withdrawal symptoms were reported in 44-50% of patients abruptly discontinuing duloxetine at the end of clinical studies for depression, and more than half of this total did not resolve within a week or two. In addition, we identified a serious breakdown at both the FDA and the manufacturer, Eli Lilly and Company, in providing adequate warnings and instructions about how to manage this common adverse effect.”

Doctors have taken to calling this “discontinuation syndrome.” These clinical words do not do justice to what it is like to stop antidepressants like Cymbalta, Effexor (venlafaxine), Paxil (paroxetine), Pristiq (desvenlafaxine) or Zoloft (sertraline) suddenly.

Sudden Withdrawal Symptoms

  • Brain “Zaps” (electric shock-like senstations in the brain)
  • Dizziness, light-headedness, vertigo, feeling faint
  • Headaches
  • Anxiety, irritability, hostility
  • Nausea, diarrhea, digestive upset
  • Tremor, hands shaking, nerve tingles, strange sensations
  • Fatigue, tiredness, lack of energy
  • Visual disturbances

Again, a list of symptoms does not do this problem justice. Below you will read some stories from people who have posted their comments to this website. We would love to hear your story, positive or negative. Share your experience with Cymbalta or any other antidepressant below.

Should you wish to learn more about dealing with depression through some other strategies, we offer our Guide to Dealing with Depression. You will also find a whole chapter on prescribing mistakes doctors make when treating depression and fibromyalgia in our book, Top Screwups Doctors Make and How to Avoid Them.

Cymbalta Withdrawal Stories from Readers

“My lovely, young daughter-in law, who was about to celebrate her 29th birthday, was prescribed Cymbalta, Klonopin, and Ambien and has committed suicide.

“She told her physician and her therapist that she’d had thoughts of suicide but no one took her seriously. She suffered from depression, as well as an eating disorder, and had very low body weight. She also used alcohol.

“Please remind your readers of the potentially disastrous effects these chemicals can cause when taken carelessly or in combination with alcohol.”
– D.G.

“I have been on Prozac over the last 20 years off and on and it finally stopped working. The last time I took it about 2 years ago I was taking the generic from Barr – the blue and white capsule. I was feeling as if I were in the deepest dark hole there ever was.

“My doctor put me on Cymbalta from which I had a lot of side effects such as palpitations, feeling constant dread, panic attacks, sweats, lightheadedness and general feeling of not being well.

“She added Abilify which put me over the edge. I was in the worst depression I have ever been in. Finally after living like this for several months, I asked to be put back on Prozac. I was taking the generic from Sandoz. When the prescription ran out I ended up on the big blue and white capsules from Barr.

“Over the last couple of weeks it has been constant crying spells, arguing with everyone and feeling pretty low. I talked to my doctor and she wrote the prescription for Sandoz only generic. The blue and white capsules are like taking a placebo. My doctor said she had had other patients who complained of the same thing and she had to write prescriptions for a certain generic or name brand.”

– P.J.

“I took Cymbalta for 3 days and thought I’d go nuts. I’m off it now and refuse to try any other drug like this. My main complaint was extreme hot flashes that estrogen wouldn’t help. I thought I’d be given Prozac, but was given Cymbalta instead. It was a rough 3 days and I stopped it last night. I am extremely tired yet cannot sleep at night. I think I was sweating even worse and my legs started feeling like I had Lyme disease again. And to be honest, within those 3 days of taking it, I didn’t contemplate suicide, but I had this crappy attitude of “who would care?”

– R.P.

“It took me 18 months to get off Cymbalta, with no doctor’s help. I can hardly believe that doctors have no exit strategy for this dangerous drug. I had to find this out on my own from reading and as soon as I weaned off that – about a month, the tinnitus that had occurred decreased almost completely. No doctor told me this.”
– Nancy

“My daughter experienced severe side effects when trying to come off Cymbalta – she had nausea, vomiting, lost peripheral vision for 24-48 hours, had shaking, etc. This was while she was doing a clinical in a hospital for college. Had she known she would have stayed on it until after clinical. I called the manufacturer and they acted like there were no such side effects from withdrawal.

“She too took apart the capsules and it took awhile, but finally she is free from that drug. I think it is a crime that the manufacturers don’t publish more detailed information concerning withdrawal. They could even make money selling a one month or two month step down prescription so individuals aren’t taking the capsules apart themselves.”
– J.K.

“I just turned 52 today. I went on a very low dose of Zoloft about 8 years ago to treat generalized anxiety disorder. It really did help for a long time. I recently have been pretty depressed (however I can cover it up really well) and my psychiatrist switched me to Effexor which was terrible for me. Now I’m trying Cymbalta which has not done anything either except make me feel more anxious and headachy and weird.”

“I am a registered nurse and I do not understand what the long term effects of these meds are and I am concerned. I really want to get off and see what I can do naturally for myself.”
– P.C.

“Getting off Cymbalta is challenging but not impossible. I, too, experienced the light-headedness, dizziness, and “brain zaps.” I described it as being able to “hear my eyes move.” It sounded like the light sabers on Star Wars. Very strange and disconcerting.

“The key is to do it very very slowly. Take the capsules apart and begin by removing 5 or 10 of the tiny balls inside. Do this for a week or so, then slowly increase the amount you remove each week or two as you can tolerate it.

“Your doctor will probably be no help at all. Mine wasn’t. He instructed me to wean off over a two to three week period and I almost lost my mind. I did it myself over about a YEAR or more. Be patient. I am completely off now and feeling GOOD.”
– K.T.

“I took Cymbalta for fibromyalgia and have just stopped taking it because of acute liver and GI pain- yes, pain! My liver poured bile into my gut and protested loudly! Cymbalta worked great on the fibromyalgia, but I had to stop.

“I agree that doctors don’t always realize how prescription drugs can alter your life so we must continue to advocate for ourselves.”
– V.C.

“I was prescribed Cymbalta ‘off-label’ to manage fibromyalgia pain When I stopped taking it because it wasn’t delivering on the promised effect of reducing my pain, I became so horribly depressed that I required hospitalization as I had become SUICIDAL!

“I will NEVER take another anti-depressant for an off-label purpose….such as Elavil/amitriptyline as a “sleep aid” which is very commonly prescribed.

“I believe it should be criminal to prescribe ANY drug for a purpose other than the one it was approved to treat.”
– Karen

“I’m a 76 year old man, my libido was very low. Taking Cymbalta for peripheral neuropathy added ED as a side affect of the drug. I had a testosterone blood test; it was 1/3 what the minimum should be. So I’m taking Androgel to raise testosterone levels and it is magic. I have great libido now and am working on minimizing the Cymbalta pills. In the meantime I have been prescribed Cialis for the ED. Each pill solves the sex problem for a couple of days.”
– R.H.

“I have the exact symptoms as everyone else and it’s been a week. I only took Cymbalta for 2 months, but the side effects from stopping it are horrible. My doctor didn’t, nor did anyone else tell me, about any side effects and I did read the insert. Most of the time the listed side effects of meds don’t bother me, so I figured no problem.

“From reading other posts on this website and on other sites, the drug seems to affect every person the same way. I would never have taken it for my neck pain if I had known about the likelihood of side effects. The worst part for me is the dizziness, the brain zings and the sudden burst of tears for no reason. I would never take this drug again. I think the FDA needs to do longer studies on all drugs and be honest with their findings and that doctors should be honest and tell their patients what really happens when you take Cymbalta.”
– M.O.

Please add your own experience below in the comment section.

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  1. Linda
    New Hampshire
    Reply

    I suffered for more than seven months with Burning Mouth Syndrome from a thrush infection following chemotherapy which went undiagnosed for nine months. I saw a neurologist who suggested Gabapentin stating that he could not cure the Burning Mouth Syndrome, but I was unable to get more than three hours sleep on it, so he suggested amitriptyline , which added to my pain because of the dry mouth it gave me. Somewhat later I saw a new family physician who prescribed Duloxetine for the neuropathic pain of Burning Mouth Syndrome and my life came back together almost immediately. Six months later my Burning Mouth Syndrome is almost gone. I was advised from the beginning that you have to ease off of the Duloxetine, not to go cold turkey. I thank heaven for the help this drug has given me.

  2. Kane
    Melbourne
    Reply

    I have been taking Cymbalta for approximately 12 months and unlike Zoloft it has been a ‘God send’ in that until the last couple of days I had experienced no adverse side effects. On Zoloft I had experienced frequent tremors and very dry mouth unlike Cymbalta. I accidentally failed to take my Cymbalta medication for the past two days and have been beset by light headed was and dizziness. Take head of the warnings on here about stopping this medication suddenly. Thankfully I am back into my routine and the dizziness is subsiding as a result.

  3. Margaret
    Durham, NC
    Reply

    I’m a mentally ill woman who has successfully lived a life free of suicidal thoughts for decades due, in part, to the aid of several antidepressants. With them I’ve been able to finish a B.A. and an M.S. I’ve had fulfilling and even exciting work in my life. I’ve got many family members with the same diagnosis as me who have not had the fulfilling life I’ve had and I owe a great deal to antidepressants.

    THEN Cymbalta…

    I have recently been suicidal and a Dr. at Holly Hill Hospital (a hell hole of the 1st order) took me off Cymbalta cold turkey. Please, if you love someone never ever let them go to Holly Hill. It is a horrible place and they lie about treatment. Anyway, the dr. there took me off Cymbalta cold turkey. First 4-5 days I was too nauseated to do much more than try to sleep. I had horrible headaches as well. The headaches continued but I was often able to go to the cafeteria. But the nausea and that feeling someone else described as the Star Wars light saber effect, those were constant.
    Now, about two weeks out, the headaches have lessened but not gone away. The nausea is still debilitating! Those brain zaps, tremors and Star Wars perceptions will not stop. understand them to be the zaps that make you drop things, sort of like tremors, are intermittent. And did I mention nausea? I am out of prison, oops, Holly Hill, and it has been two weeks. I’m drinking a ton of water and eating well but it simply won’t get better. Maybe I just need more time.

    But my advice:DO NOT GO COLD TURKEY on this drug!

    • Margaret
      Durham
      Reply

      Just wanted to add that it has been almost two weeks since I wrote of my withdrawal effects. Yes, the headaches have lessened but the nausea is constant, I still have the diarrhea, my level of irritability has gone sky high and I still get the brain zaps. All this is happening even though I was put back on a low dose of Prozac to deal with the withdrawal symptoms. Please don’t just go off this drug cold turkey.

  4. Benita Peden
    Sydney
    Reply

    I have been on Cybalta for about 3 years it has helped me a lot It has come to a stage where the drug has stopped working.I am slowly wearning coming off the drug under close supervision by my specialist.Yes I do have a few side effects coming off but am able to ring my specialist at any time while coming off this drug.

  5. Dori
    conway sc
    Reply

    I talked with my Doctor three times to discontinue this drug. Finally she decided to take me off over a period of 6 weeks. I had developed high blood pressure- severe high readings. (I was always normal) I developed hot flashes, headaches. Now, coming off of this medicine, my blood pressure is coming back to normal, but have had severe emotional behaviors, weight gain, nightmares, and migraine headaches! Not feeling very well at all! Brain zaps, you name it….this Drug is bad and should not be allowed on the market.

  6. LynneM
    United States
    Reply

    My doctor prescibed Cymbalta for muscular skeletor pain a few years ago.When I got a new doctor after I moved,he said if its not helping to wean off it.I did that, I had the brain zaps, I couldnt move my head side to side,got worsening headaches,and couldnt handle all the craziness.So I started taking 30 mg. and weaned off that.Im only on day 3, but I dont know why this drug is prescribed off label,without having a way out.This is the worst drug on the market,it should be taken off the market.Also,Doctors have a duty to tell their patients how bad it is,and how bad the withdrawels are.I’ll add to the comments in a few days when Im still withdrawing

  7. Jennifer
    oregon
    Reply

    My docs at the VA have me all screwed up. 2 weeks into a one month supply of my dulox, I emailed and asked if they could make it a three month like the rest of my pills. About 3 days later when I tried to refill my pills I found they had been cancelled. I had less than 10 days left usually enough but now, I was severely screwed because they had discontinued my meds. A couple of days later I noticed they had put in a listing on my med list for a three month supply.

    Now I was really screwed because it was the weekend and no pills for the weekend or even longer, I send an email and tell them that I am now on my last dulox. I get a snarky reply from the doc office about ordering my pills before I run out.

    OK you are the idiots that just dc’d my presc without any communication as to what the hell you were doing. Now I am on day 5 of not having the dulox and am dizzy, biting the heads off of my kid and hubby and can not quit crying. I called the VA today and they are rushing me an overnight 10 day supply. OK, why couldn’t you do that when I said I was on my last pill instead of waiting until my 19 year old will not even look at me.

  8. Judy
    Texas
    Reply

    I was diagnosed with MS at age 59. One the hardest things to get used to was the fatigue. When I asked about that, I was told to take 30mg of cymbalta. That it would take about a month to help. Was very pleased with results, but as I am a very happy person I wanted to get off any unnecessary drugs, because of the long term effects they could have on my aging body. I consulted my Dr., was told to wean myself off over 2 weeks by taking every other day.. I stretched it out a bit. but am off. I’m not having horrible reactions, but my pain in my back and heaviness in my legs are worse. How long will it take to get completely out of my body? Is my MS acting up or is it the lack of Cymbalta? Who knows ?

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