Cymbalta is the generic drug duloxetine, and it is an antidepressant made by Eli Lilly. There are other uses for the drug, but it is primarily used to improve mood in people suffering with depression. This was the first use the U.S. Food and Drug Administration cited when it approved Cymbalta in 2004. Because this is a relatively new drug, not all the side effects had been discovered or reported that year.
Of the many possible Cymbalta side effects, many are mild and not serious, but others are serious. They can be very damaging and many people have suffered because of them. Some of these people have sued Eli Lilly, believing the company to be negligent in causing them harm and accusing it of failing to warn patients, doctors and the public of the risk of withdrawal, suicide, and other side effects.
Cymbalta for Depression
Duloxetine is a serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor, also known as an SNRI, a type of drug that alters brain chemicals to improve mood. Cymbalta acts in the brain to block the reabsorption of the two natural chemicals serotonin and norepinephrine. The result is that levels of them go up in the brain. Since both are associated with mood, this improves mood for many people struggling with depression.
The original FDA approval for Cymbalta, which was made in 2004, was for the treatment of depression and anxiety. Major depression is a mood disorder characterized by persistent feelings of sadness and hopelessness, while anxiety disorders can come in many different forms: social anxiety, general anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, panic disorder, and more.
While the FDA first approved duloxetine to treat these two types of mental health conditions, over time it became clear that it could help with other conditions too. Eventually the FDA also approved Cymbalta to treat diabetic nerve pain and a condition called fibromyalgia, which includes nerve pain as well. The same action in the brain that boosts mood may also block certain pain signals.
Common Side Effects
As with most antidepressants, Cymbalta side effects are fairly common. A lot of patients tolerate the drug well and are willing to live with them for the benefits of the medications. Others find that the side effects lessen with time, but others will experience more severe, sometimes very serious side effects that force them to stop taking Cymbalta.
The most common and less serious side effects of Cymbalta are dizziness, dry mouth, nausea, and excessive sweating. Also fairly common are diarrhea and vomiting, heartburn, headaches, drowsiness, muscle cramps and weakness, sexual dysfunction, decreased appetite, and trouble urinating.
Discontinuation and Withdrawal Syndrome
One of the most serious side effects of Cymbalta is withdrawal. This happens when a patient stops taking the medication suddenly. It is recommended that someone only stop using duloxetine gradually and under the direction of a doctor. If the patient is not weaned correctly and slowly enough, the side effects can include anxiety, irritability, insomnia, vomiting, nausea, diarrhea, dizziness, sweating, nightmares, headaches, and a tingling or numb sensation in the hands and feet.
Another side effect of withdrawal from Cymbalta is not well explained and is described by those who experience it as a “brain zap.” People who have had this say it is a sudden and unsettling feeling, that it is almost like an electric shock to the brain accompanied by feelings of dizziness, confusion, and agitation.
Withdrawal, also known as discontinuation syndrome, can be uncomfortable, painful, and scary, especially when it includes brain zaps. Many patients feel that the drug maker never warned them that this was possible. Withdrawal can be serious enough to require hospitalization and some people have suffered a lot because of it, experiencing disruptive symptoms and time away from work and relationships. In 2009, the FDA analyzed the risk and Cymbalta’s label and agreed with consumers that the warning was not adequate compared to the risk and severity of the side effect.
Pregnancy Side Effects
While the exact risk is not fully understood, both Eli Lilly and the FDA have acknowledged that there is some risk of pregnancy side effects. These can include miscarriages, premature births, and birth defects. The FDA has categorized duloxetine as C for pregnancy risks, meaning there is definite evidence of risk in animal studies and possible risk with humans. For women who are or may be pregnant, the benefits of treatment with Cymbalta must be carefully weighed against the risks.
All antidepressants, including SNRIs like Cymbalta, carry a risk of suicide for young people. It has not always been known, and before the public was warned about it some young people suffered suicidal thoughts and even suicide attempts while taking antidepressants. The risk is associated only with children, teens, and adults 24 and under. It is not common, but some people in this group will start to develop a deeper depression and thoughts of suicide.
Using Cymbalta for children and teen is not recommended, but doctors may use professional discretion to decide if the risks are worth the benefits. For example, if a child or teen has not responded to other treatments, an antidepressant may be the next best choice in spite of the suicide risks.
Other Serious Cymbalta Side Effects
Suicide, possible birth defects, and withdrawal are some of the most serious side effects associated with using duloxetine. There are some others that are serious but less common. These include liver damage, which although very rare, can be fatal, serotonin syndrome, another potentially fatal condition characterized by high levels of serotonin in the brain, and Stevens-Johnson syndrome a serious skin condition.
If you were harmed by Cymbalta side effects, you may be entitled to compensation to help you cover medical costs and to make up for your pain and suffering. Other people have filed lawsuits against Eli Lilly over the side effects of this particular antidepressant and you may want to do the same. If you’re not sure what to do next, let a lawyer guide your steps. A knowledgeable professional can help you decide if you have a case and if so, what to do.