Fibromyalgia has been one of those “mystery” ailments that can create tremendous amounts of pain, yet doctors still don’t have a definitive answer as to its cause, nor is there a cure. A wide net has been cast as to possible risk factors, including chronic stress, certain infections, autoimmune disorders, rheumatoid arthritis, traumatic injuries and more, most of which puts pretty much everyone at some level of risk.
The number of people suffering with this life-changing, debilitating condition is growing; today it affects about 10 million people in the US alone and about 6 percent of people worldwide, according to the National Fibromyalgia Association. The chance of being diagnosed with fibromyalgia increases with age—currently 8 percent of people suffer with this disorder by the age of 80.
One other important risk factor associated with developing fibromyalgia that has come to light more recently is the use of a certain class of antibiotics called fluoroquinolones. While you may not be familiar with the term, you’ve probably heard of Cipro (generic name ciprofloxacin); in fact, chances are you or someone you know has been prescribed Cipro at some time. A common “go to” broad-spectrum antibiotic, Cipro is readily prescribed for UTIs, bronchitis, ear infections, sinusitis, and a wide range of other bacterial infections. Some doctors also prescribe Cipro for infections caused by viruses—viral illnesses don’t respond to antibiotic treatment and shouldn’t be treated with them.
Fluoroquinolones aren’t just associated with fibromyalgia—Baylor College of Medicine reports that these antibiotics have received an FDA black box warning due to the fact that they may “disrupt the normal functions of connective tissue, including tendon rupture, tendonitis, and retinal detachment.” When a drug receives a black box warning—the most serious the FDA can give—doctors are supposed to inform their patients of the warning and the potential harm the drug can cause. However, many doctors are not communicating any of this information to their patients, putting them at risk without their knowing or giving them the opportunity to request a different approach.
In addition to the above side effects, there is concern that there may be a connection between fluoroquinolones and cardiovascular problems as well as “severe aortic problems”, including aneurysms. A 2016 FDA news release states that the potential disabling side effects that may affect joints, the central nervous system and muscles can be permanent, occurring anywhere from hours to weeks after use. (Dangerous side effects can happen after just one dose, as the article in The New York Times illustrates.) It concludes that fluoroquinolones should only be prescribed for serious bacterial infections or when there is no alternative treatment.
While antibiotics definitely have their place in medicine and are necessary to fight certain illnesses and, in some cases, can save people’s lives, the problem is that Cipro use should be limited to more powerful bacterial strains, including life-threatening infections. As reported in The New York Times, University of British Columbia pharmacological epidemiologist Mahyar Etminan stated that fluoroquinolones are being overprescribed “by lazy doctors who are trying to kill a fly with an automatic weapon.” In fact, the Drug Law Center reports that over 26 million people are prescribed fluoroquinolones annually.
Many common viral and bacterial infections can clear up on their own with proper care; you can help your body fight back by increasing your intake of “natural antibiotic” foods, such as manuka honey, cinnamon, garlic, foods rich in vitamin C and more. If necessary, safer, less powerful medications can be prescribed. Of course, the best treatment is prevention, which means strengthening your immune system and maintaining a healthy gut microbiome.