Over-the-Counter Drugs for Fibromyalgia and ME/CFS

What to Keep in Your Medicine Cabinet

Over-the-counter (OTC) drugs don't offer much help when it comes to major symptoms of fibromyalgia (FMS) and chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS). But they may help with some minor symptoms and those of overlapping conditions. Managing those symptoms may help avoid triggering a flare and help you feel better overall.

The following drugs haven't been tested for their effectiveness in treating symptoms of FMS and ME/CFS. But they are known to treat some similar symptoms in the general population. As with any treatment, they may or may not work for you.

This article will look at eight OTC medications and why you should keep them in your medicine cabinet if you have ME/CFS or fibromyalgia.

Anti-Inflammatory Drugs

Ibuprofen tablets

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FMS and ME/CFS are believed to involve neuroinflammation or inflammation in the brain and spinal cord. Even so, studies suggest nonsteroidal anti-inflammatories (NSAIDs) aren't very effective against FMS and ME/CFS pain.

Overlapping Conditions

Many conditions common to people with FMS and ME/CFS are helped by NSAIDs. These include:

Improving symptoms of these conditions may help you feel better overall.

Injuries

If you're injured, the added pain may be enough to trigger a flare. NSAIDs can help manage that pain and therefore might prevent a flare.

For those reasons, it pays to keep a ready supply of OTC NSAIDs such as:

Acetaminophen

Woman holding acetaminophen tablets and a glass of water

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Acetaminophen is the drug in:

  • Tylenol
  • Generic non-aspirin pain relievers
  • Dozens of combination cold-and-flu products

Unlike NSAIDs, which work by relieving inflammation, it's believed to help by altering pain signals.

Again, this drug probably won't do a lot for FMS or ME/CFS pain. But like NSAIDs, it can help with pain from related conditions and day-to-day injuries that, if left uncontrolled, could trigger a flare.

Overdose Warning

Some combination opioids contain acetaminophen. Vicodin (hydrocodone/acetaminophen) is one example. Don't take more than 3 grams (3,000 milligrams) of acetaminophen—combined from all sources—per day without approval from a healthcare provider. It can lead to overdose and liver failure.

Bonine or Dramamine

Round yellow tablets in a blister pack

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Vertigo is the feeling that the world is spinning around you. Another common symptom of FMS and ME/CFS, it's different from lightheadedness and can be really debilitating.

Motion sickness drugs can help control dizzy spells. They include:

  • Bonine (meclizine)
  • Dramamine (dimenhydrinate)

Check with your healthcare provider or pharmacist before combining them with allergy drugs.

Anti-Itch Creams

Hydrocortisone cream

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Itching can be an especially annoying symptom of FMS and ME/CFS.

Dry or irritated skin can obviously cause it. But if you have ME/CFS or FMS, you'll likely feel a stronger itch than someone else would. (That's thanks to hyperalgesia, which is amplified pain signals.)

It's also possible that your skin might itch for no obvious reason at all.

Itching is not only annoying, but it can be an added sleep disruption. In addition, vigorous scratching can trigger a pain response in people with FMS.

Anti-itch creams or sprays that contain diphenhydramine can stop itches caused by bug bites, allergies, or other skin irritants. OTC hydrocortisone 1% cream is another option you can try.

Any anti-itch cream should only be used for short periods of time. If problems persist, speak to your healthcare provider.

Regularly moisturizing your skin and using fragrance-free personal care products and detergents can help prevent itchiness. Applying cold compresses or gently rubbing the skin may offer some relief when you do get itchy.

Anti-Diarrhea Medication

Diarrhea medicine

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Diarrhea, bloating, and discomfort are common in people with FMS and ME/CFS. That's because both conditions are tied to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). Three of the four IBS types involve diarrhea.

Anti-diarrhea drugs like Imodium (loperamide) can help control this symptom. Diarrhea can dehydrate you—which can, among other things, increase fatigue—so get plenty of fluids.

If you still have diarrhea after taking Imodium, or you need Imodium regularly, talk to your healthcare provider. You might need to look into dietary and lifestyle changes that help manage IBS symptoms.

Constipation Remedies

Stool softener capsule

Karl Tapales / Getty Images

Three of four IBS types also involve constipation. If you tend to get backed up, keep OTC laxatives and stool softeners on hand.

Fiber supplements are also important for keeping bowel movements regular.

Long-term use of laxatives can make constipation worse. If you need them often, tell your healthcare provider. You may benefit from prescription medications and/or dietary changes.

Benadryl for Allergies

Diphenhydramine tablets

GIPhotoStock / Getty Images

Many people with FMS and ME/CFS have allergies. Those may involve seasonal allergies (hay fever), environmental allergies (dust, pet dander), and drug or food allergies.

Some healthcare providers believe these conditions make you more prone to allergies that change over time. That means you may sometimes be surprised by an allergic reaction to something you used to tolerate.

An oral form of Benadryl (diphenhydramine) is good to have on hand in case of a serious allergic reaction. Diphenhydramine is the active ingredient in some OTC sleep aids, so it may help with insomnia, too.

If you're already on a daily allergy medication, be sure to ask your healthcare provider or pharmacist about what's safe for you to take if you have a severe reaction.

For a severe allergic reaction, especially if you're having trouble breathing, get immediate medical help.

Saline Nasal Spray for Congestion

Woman using saline nasal spray

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Along with allergies, non-allergy rhinitis is a common cause of nasal congestion in FMS and ME/CFS. That congestion can lead to:

All of that can exacerbate your symptoms.

Regular use of a saline nasal spray or a neti pot can help keep sinuses clear. If saline isn't enough, ask your healthcare provider about prescription nasal sprays such as Nasacort (triamcinolone) or Flonase (fluticasone).

Sjögren's Syndrome

Many people with FMS and ME/CFS have Sjögren's syndrome. Its primary symptoms are dry eyes and mouth, but it can also dry the sinuses. Let your healthcare provider know if your sinuses frequently feel dry, especially if your mouth or eyes do as well. Sjögren's can be well treated and managed.

Summary

While OTC drugs aren't very useful for the major symptoms of FMS and ME/CFS, some can help with other symptoms and related issues. Treating those problems may help avoid triggering a flare and lower the overall impact of your symptoms.

These include motion-sickness drugs to help with dizziness, anti-itch creams to soothe itchy skin, anti-diarrheal and constipation drugs for related IBS, pain relievers to ease discomfort, and others.

Always check with your healthcare provider before taking medication, even OTC drugs. It's also a good idea to run them by your pharmacist. They can help prevent negative interactions and ensure your safety.

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9 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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