About 10 million Americans, most of them women suffer from fibromyalgia, an incurable illness that causes stiffness, fatigue, muscle aches and sleep disturbances.
The underlying cause is unknown and current treatments include pain medication, stretching, exercise, sleep management and psychological support.
Now according to a small study by University of Florida researchers, a common over-the-counter cough medication dextromethorphan may help people with fibromyalgia.
In the study of 14 women with fibromyalgia and 10 women without the disease it was found that dextromethorphan appeared to temporarily reduce the intensity of "wind-up," a cascading pain response to minor, repetitive physical touch, which is symptom of the syndrome.
Although the Florida study did not establish guidelines for the clinical use of dextromethorphan, the researchers say the findings do suggest it may eventually provide an option for treating fibromyalgia and other conditions that cause heightened pain sensitivity.
Dr. Roland Staud, an associate professor of medicine, the study's principal author and a rheumatology expert, says the results are just one part of the mosaic, and as there is currently no single therapy for chronic pain that has a big effect, these patients need to use a whole host of different interventions to decrease the pain they have. Dextromethorphan, says Staud, may have a role in the future.
He does however, he caution against fibromyalgia patients self-medicating by taking cough syrups that contain dextromethorphan.
The study appears in the May 2005 issue of the Journal of Pain.