a foot above several upright thumb tacks

Have you seen the ad blitz for Lyrica (pregabalin)? A LOT of money is being spent trying to convince the American public that Lyrica is the answer to diabetic nerve pain. One of the most compelling commercials stars a retired policeman:

“Hi, I’m Terry and I have diabetic nerve pain. I worked a patrol unit for 17 years in the city of Baltimore. When I first started experiencing the pain it’s hard to describe because you have a numbness but yet you have the pain like thousands of needles sticking in your foot.”

This sounds awful, and indeed people with diabetic neuropathy suffer terribly. Symptoms can include:

Symptoms of Diabetic Neuropathy

  • Burning, tingling or a feeling of needles sticking into your skin
  • Numbness in toes and feet; an inability to sense a needle prick; reduced sensitivity to temperature change
  • Difficulty walking because of numbness, pain or weakness
  • Intense stabbing jolts of pain, especially in the evening
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Swallowing difficulties
  • Poor stomach emptying, leading to feelings of fullness and bloating
  • Bladder problems
  • Dizziness on standing

It’s hardly any wonder that patients with neuropathy and nerve pain would be looking for help. A commercial like the one with Terry, the retired Baltimore police officer, is very appealing. When Terry says the “pain started subsiding” after taking Lyrica, we imagine that lots of viewers might think that they too might benefit from this drug. Are they paying attention, though, when the voice-over announcer says:

“Lyrica is not for everyone. It may cause serious allergic reactions or suicidal thoughts or actions. Tell your doctor right away if you have these: new or worsening depression or unusual changes in mood or behavior, or swelling, trouble breathing, rash, hives, blisters, changes in eye sight including blurry vision, muscle pain with fever, tired feeling or skin sores from diabetes. Common side effects are dizziness, sleepiness, weight gain, and swelling of hands, legs and feet. Don’t drink alcohol while taking Lyrica. Don’t drive or use machinery until you know how Lyrica affects you.”

While you listen to the on-air announcer speed through this long list of complications you see Terry working in his backyard planting and watering pretty flowers. Somehow, the scary side effects seem less worrisome in such a bucolic setting.

Here are some real stories from our website to bring the side effects into focus:

This comes from LCB:

“I started taking Lyrica 10 days ago for RLS [restless leg syndrome] and fibromyalgia. I was taking gabapentin but it had stopped working. I gained 14 pounds on the gabapentin, and now I’ve gained 5 pounds more on the Lyrica. I have edema [fluid retention] as well. I’m sleepy for most of the day and I feel like I’m dragging my body around. I have no energy. My husband tells me I’m irritable with the kids, and that I can’t seem to remember things anymore.

“All of this is quite a drastic change from my usual energetic, tireless self. I don’t like how I feel, and to make the most important point: Lyrica doesn’t seem to help much. I still have tons of pain, and RLS at night. So, I have an appointment with my doctor to ask for a change. I believe that these medicines work very well on some people, but we are all so different. It doesn’t work for me.”

T.  had a very scary story to share:

“After almost eight years on Cymbalta, it had lost the effectiveness. My doctor added Lyrica to help with fibro. Soon after, I started to have a deep depression and wanted to end the pain that I have lived with for so long. The stress of life was so great, that I attempted suicide. I was put in the hospital for four days.

“At that point, no more meds! The symptoms are what everyone has described. I feel alone and lost in my own brain fog hell. Not one of my family has a clue what a nightmare this is.”

Kathy listed these complicatons:

“I was on the drug eight months for fibromyalgia prescribed by a rheumatologist. I, too, started having problems with eyesight (my eye doctor could NOT update my lenses due to Lyrica causing severe blurriness). I also had memory loss, anxiety, and trouble sleeping. I suffer from chronic constipation due to diverticulitis, and the Lyrica was making this worse. I weaned off over a three-week period. OMG! The withdrawal was/is terrible.

“I am 9 weeks into it, and still have terrible throbbing ongoing headaches, difficulty swallowing, and went from 134 lbs to 118! I feel like I’m dying most of the time. I went to my current neurologist today and was told there were no such symptoms from Lyrica withdrawal!

“Google it, doctor! Please, if anyone reading this is considering taking Lyrica, reconsider! If you have side effects like I did, then decide to go off; you may be looking at a long recovery and NO help from a doctor. They are all denying any problems with this medication. Please read the “Lyrica Withdrawal” posts first!”

Getting off drugs that affect the central nervous system can sometimes be challenging. As we mentioned recently with our post on Abilify, the track record of psychiatry and neurology has been abysmal when it comes to studying sudden withdrawal from commonly prescribed medications. It took years for researchers to discover that when patients suddenly stopped benzodiazepines such as alprazolam (Xanax), diazepam (Valium) or lorazepam (Ativan) they often experienced very unpleasant withdrawal symptoms. Ditto for antidepressants like citalopram (Celexa), duloxetine (Cymbalta), escitalopram (Lexapro), sertraline (Zoloft) and venlafaxine (Effexor).

The story of Lyrica (pregabalin) withdrawal is also murky. There is very little in the medical literature on this topic. The prescribing information does mention, though, that some patients report symptoms such as insomnia, nausea, headache, anxiety, sweating or diarrhea if they stop suddenly. The advice: taper the dose over at least a week rather that stopping suddenly. We fear that such information is not always that helpful, especially since there is not much practical information about actual dosage reduction.

Lyrica Side Effects

  • Vertigo, dizziness, unsteadiness, coordination problems, abnormal gait
  • Sleepiness, fatigue
  • Confusion, abnormal thinking, difficulty with attention and concentration, accidental injury
  • Dry mouth
  • Fluid retention in hands or feet, edema
  • Blurred vision, difficulty with eyesight
  • Weight gain
  • Constipation, gas
  • Pain
  • Skin reaction, rash, dermatitis (requires immediate medical attention!)
  • Depression, suicidal thoughts or actions
  • Muscle breakdown (rhabdomyolysis), tremor
  • Blood disorders
  • Withdrawal symptoms, discontinuation syndrome, seizures

We recognize that some people with hard-to-treat neuropathy or fibromyalgia may do quite well on Lyrica and not suffer side effects. That’s great. But some patients don’t get much benefit and do suffer complications. For them, Lyrica is not a blessing.

To learn about some other approaches to neuropathy, you may want to check these links about benfotiamine (link 1 and link 2) and alpha lipoic acid.

Please share your own story about Lyrica or your experience with neuropathy and what has worked for you below so others can benefit from your experience.

 

Join Over 75,000 Subscribers at The People's Pharmacy

Each week we send two free email newsletters with breaking health news, prescription drug information, home remedies and a preview of our award-winning radio show. Join our mailing list and get the information you need to make confident choices about your health.

  1. LATRICE
    Reply

    Well, lyrica has saved my life I was in so much pain that the thought of suicide was my only way out from the pain. My diabetes is not under control so they opted not to do surgery on my hands and feet so I was forced to live in pain. I couldn’t walk, I wasn’t sleeping and I WAS IN PAIN. My toes felt like someone has wrapped rubber bands around them and cut off the blood flow. You could not touch my feet. Since I have been on lyrica I can walk my toes are not sore, I am sleeping. I feel like I have my life back and I have lost 5lbs. LIFE IS GOOD!

  2. Renee
    Northern Ohio
    Reply

    Reading all of this scares the hell out of me. I’ve been on Lyrica since 2009 for my feet. I knew about the side effects from the get-go but I just recently started reading forums like this where REAL people talk about their unbiased experiences. This really has me worried. I had depression, anxiety, and addiction issues (alcohol) BEFORE I started Lyrica. Since then the depression and anxiety has become progressively worse to the point where I can’t even enjoy the things that used to make me happy. My short term memory is shot, although I initially blamed that on the years of alcohol abuse.

    I have gained weight as well. I get headaches and although I don’t have blurred vision, my eyesight still feels a little “off” at times. I blamed that on the years of nearsightedness.

    I’ve been off the drug before, but my feet go right back to hurting and I can’t sleep. On the other hand I noticed that my short-term memory improved, at least temporarily. The memory loss and foggy head really concern me, though.

  3. Ewen
    Ireland
    Reply

    Lyrica made me depressed with suicidal thoughts for the year I was on it

  4. Sally
    UK
    Reply

    I have just finished going through the withdrawal symptoms after going cold turkey from pregabalin. What a horrendous drug it was, left me stuttering for my words. I had blurred vision, memory problems and depression. After stopping the drug I had terrible itching all over, restless legs, aches all over my body and a feeling of detatchment. Now 8 still have pain from my bulging discs and nerve impingement, but the pain isn’t as bad as before I started the drugs. I think pain worsens through anxiety and the inability to cope with a change in your once good health. I don’t think drugs are the answer now, I believe yoga, meditation, walking, massage and positive thinking help more. I may one day need an operation, just holding off from that as long as possible. The thought of being reliant on these drugs again worries me so much. I am better without them, I can only suggest others try, because you might find you weren’t getting as much pain relief from them as you once thought. The placebo affect plays its part, the metal addiction to these drugs is powerful, you fear the pain returning, so think you need them for longer than you actually do. Maybe dvo cold turkey. I stupidly stopped everything I was taking all in one go. Pregabalin, naproxen, paracetamol with tramadol and omeprazole for stomache. I also cut out caffeine…oh my goodness I think it could have killed me hahaaa but after such a nasty withdrawl, my pain is not so bad now. :-) Good luck and god bless you all with these awful conditions that put you through so much pain and make you turn to drugs which are damaging to your minds and bodies. Without them we think more clearly and can be free to feel what is really going on inside. Alternative therapies are the way forward and a positive outlook on life. I hope you all find a better way as I have done.

  5. Graham
    Suffolk UK
    Reply

    To all of you struggling to get off of this medication, hang in there, it can be achieved and the horrendous, frightening and long lasting withdrawal symptoms will come to an end. I never could take Lyrica or Pregabalin as it is called here in the UK but was on a massive dose 3600mg of Gabapentin instead. I suffer from severe nerve damage in both legs as a result of failed back surgery syndrome.

    I took Gabapentin, which is very similar in make up to Lyrica for about 4 years without any major issues and yes it did ‘shut down’ most of my debilitating pain and yes t did make me fat! Towards the end of that period I started to notice that my legs would swell up and my hair began to fall out. Not from my head but all over the rest of my body. I went from being a fairly furry guy, to having virtually no hair in a very short space of time and strange little blood blisters started to appear where my body hair had been (as I now know I was being poisoned). I had blood tests but nothing came back as conclusively causing the issues. My doctor did say he wanted to wean me down from my very high dose of medication though, so I began that process.

    One night shortly after while I was away on holiday in Ireland, in the middle of nowhere I had the most massive allergic reaction to the Gabapentin, virtually going into anaphylactic shock, it happened just moments after taking the tablet. I was VERY ill and discovered later that had I not been seen at a local hospital very quickly, I would likely have not survived. Anyway long story short. I had to quit the Gabapentin immediately, something we are advised not to do. The effect that had on my central nervous system was horrendous and debilitating and I thought permanent. I felt physically nauseous and dizzy continuously for months. I was low, depressed and lethargic. I experienced what I can only describe as weird buzzing, electric shock type sensations over the left side of my head, ear and face and tremors all over the rest of my body. They went on and on. I felt bodily ill constantly.

    Everyone, including my doctor (but not my Pharmacist) told me it could not possibly have been the medication withdrawal that had caused the issues BUT I knew differently. It was the only valid answer. It was the Gabapentin that had been responsible. It took a full 8 months before I started to feel normal again and a good year before I felt (relatively) well. What I can say to all of you suffering is please hang in there. However bad you feel It WILL get better and the horrible symptoms you are feeling will subside. Mine were very protracted BUT even I got there. I’ve now had conversations with people who have quit cold turkey and who were lucky enough to get over the Gaba imbalances in their brain in a matter of days or weeks, we are all different.

    I never ever believed I would feel ‘normal’ again BUT I did eventually. I’m through with drugs now and live as best I can with the pain. Alpha Lipoic Acid and Benfotiamine supplements help me and next month I am having a spinal cord stimulator fitted, which I am praying will give me back my life fully. Good luck and God bless to all. Remember it will get better.

  6. Koo
    DC
    Reply

    I was prescribed lyrica for two herniated disks and a pinched nerve. Right off the bat, I had intense blurred vision (almost crashed my car) and nausea, not to mention it made me ravenous, to the point I was eating food barely cooked to just get it in my mouth. This was quite different than my usual eat a meal a day habit. I hate this stuff! I prefer my oxycodone and naproxen for the pain relief and I stopped taking the lyrica. I didn’t tell my doctor because he is hell bent on me being on it. I’m just like yup, I’m taking it. Stopping it sucked, I felt like killing everyone. This is not good stuff, at least for me. Oh, I’m only 35 and otherwise healthy except for this damn back of mine.

  7. Diane
    Nebraska
    Reply

    I started taking Lyrica almost 2 years ago for non-related diabetic neuropathy. I suffered from nerve pain after enduring numerous mini-strokes (nothing “mini” about them!) It worked on the pain wonderfully – side effect was 25 pound weight gain. I tried to wean myself off of it about 6 months ago and had the most horrible 2 days… I finally started taking it again because of the withdrawal effects. I haven’t given up – I’m going to try taking it every other day again and toughing out the grueling withdrawal.

What Do You Think?

We invite you to share your thoughts with others, but remember that our comment section is a public forum. Please do not use your full first and last name if you want to keep details of your medical history anonymous. A first name and last initial or a pseudonym is acceptable. Advice from other commenters on this website is not a substitute for medical attention. Do not stop any medicine without checking with the prescriber. Stopping medication suddenly could result in serious harm. We expect comments to be civil in tone and language. By commenting, you agree to abide by our commenting policy and website terms & conditions. Comments that do not follow these policies will not be posted.