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. Donna
    Pt. Townsend WA
    Reply

    I was prescribed 30 mg. Cymbalta a year ago around July. I realize this was a pretty small dose, thank the Lord. It was prescribed by my oncologist for pains which seemed to travel around my body. It did seem to allay the pains, but did strange things to my head. After the third time I awoke in the middle of the night with my head screaming (so loud I got up and roamed the house to be sure the smoke alarms were not acting out) I quit the cymbalta cold turkey; my oncologist is only available two days a week and I didn’t feel like I should call her.

    Then the fun started. I quit a week before my birthday, which I just celebrated again last week. I had the usual complaints, nausea, dizziness, but the kicker was the brain zaps which are described by others as electric. What I experienced was a noise like all the notes of a harmonica being blown full blast. It seemed to happen when I moved my head a certain way, or perhaps it was eye movement. This eventually toned down to a single “cowbell” clang and for the last few weeks it has been quite seldom and faint.

    I do have to say it sort of amused me–certainly not like waking up with the inside of my head screaming! However, after dropping the drug the former ear problem of rushing water tinnitus, to which I had become accustomed, changed to a constant hissing noise and feeling of pressure in my head and, worse, for the last few months I have experienced crushing fatigue and unmanageable short term memory loss. I don’t know if the fatigue and memory loss have anything to do with Cymbalta, but my quality of life has taken a nose dive since I took and dropped the drug.

  2. Steve
    Kentucky
    Reply

    Cymbalta has been great for me. Only problem I have had is when forgot my refill for one day I have brain the brain zaps and ringing ears I have been reading about. It is like a mini lightning strike in my head. As long as I take it I am fine. I have no reason to try to get off this medication. Plan on taking it from now on if it keeps helping. Also take Seroquel along with it at bed time. 90mgs Cymbalta and 100mgs Seroquel. Have no plans to stop unless I start feeling bad. Never ever stop cold turkey. Feeling great!

  3. Andrew
    wigan uk
    Reply

    I have been on this drug for 1 month the side effects affter starting the drug was awful dizzyness, shock like feelings in my head, my arms and legs twitching, headaches feeling sick, light head feel like my eyes are bulging etc. So I decided to stop them as a couldn’t cope with the side effects, but they are ten times worse will they eventually stop please advise?

    Andrew

  4. SS
    GA
    Reply

    I too have experienced severe withdrawals coming off of Cymbalta. This is my second attempt to come off of this drug, and I am determined to be free of it. I haven taken Cymbalta for about seven years to treat generalized anxiety disorder. BI have gone through some very dark days in attempt to get this drug out of my system. I weaned down from 30mg to 20mg then to 10 (I opened the capsules). I took 10mg daily and went to every other day and then every third day; despite weaning, I have had nausea, loss of weight, brain fogginess, palpitations, tremors, fatigue and even feelings of not wanting to be on this earth anymore. I have been off of the drug since mid August, and I am finally seeing light at the end of the tunnel. I do not think that this drug is labeled properly, and physicians should use caution when prescribing such drugs. I will never take this drug, or anything like it again. It is not worth it. MDs should monitor patients on this drug closely, especially during the weaning process. It’s been an awful experience for me.

  5. Alex
    Tacoma, WA
    Reply

    Well, like so many above, I’m encouraged that I’m among others on this journey. I’m 65 and was prescribed Cymbalta for some depression related to knee replacement surgery last February. Ironically, I was frustrated that my recovery was taking longer than the recovery from my previous knee replacement surgery several years prior. Hah! Had I — and probably my physician– known about the difficulty of withdrawal from this drug I wouldn’t have whined about my surgery-recovery time, let alone have gotten involved with this drug! So now it’s been a little over a week since I quit Cymbalta… cold turkey. My reason for quitting was simply that I believed — and believe– that it had done its job and I simply didn’t need it any more — OK, and also that I tend to be a cheap S.O.B. and didn’t want to continue with the copay.

    There weren’t any apparent side effects of the drug, fortunately, in my case. So now my withdrawal symptoms are those “brain zaps,” and a bit of occasional dizziness. I guess I shouldn’t complain, based on other’s accounts, but it looks like I’ll get to suffer these real effects for a lot longer than my last hangover — and possibly (likely?) longer than the time I took Cymbalta! I haven’t seen any specific withdrawal-duration time periods in the above accounts, but it seems I should expect months of this before it subsides/disappears.
    I’ll be seeing my regular physician soon, and we’ll discuss all this and I’ll enlighten him of this website. I feel fortunate to have discovered it, and wish my fellow travelers well. We’ll get there!

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