Fibromyalgia: Assessing the Efficacy and Safety of Duloxetine at Different Doses

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Written By Dr. Marcus Yu Bin Pai

MD, PhD. Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation Physician from São Paulo - Brazil. Pain Fellowship in University of São Paulo.

Fibromyalgia is a chronic disorder characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain, fatigue, sleep disturbances, and cognitive difficulties. It affects 2-4% of the adult population globally. While the exact causes are unknown, abnormalities in serotonin and norepinephrine signaling are implicated in the pathogenesis.

As a result, medications that increase serotonin and norepinephrine levels in the central nervous system, such as duloxetine, are commonly used to treat fibromyalgia.

Duloxetine is a serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (SNRI) antidepressant. By blocking the reuptake of serotonin and norepinephrine, duloxetine increases their levels in the synaptic cleft and enhances endogenous pain modulation. Several clinical trials have demonstrated duloxetine’s efficacy in reducing pain and other fibromyalgia symptoms compared to placebo. However, there is no consensus on the optimal dosage, with studies using doses ranging from 30 mg/day to 120 mg/day.

Duloxetine serving dual purposes

  • Up to 20% of fibromyalgia patients have comorbid major depressive disorder (MDD).
  • Dysregulated serotonin is implicated in depression and sensitization of pain pathways in fibromyalgia.
  • As an SNRI, duloxetine increases serotonin availability in the CNS, addressing the underlying abnormalities in both conditions.
  • Doses of 60-120 mg/day are typically used for treating MDD, overlapping with fibromyalgia efficacy.
  • Duloxetine could provide analgesic and antidepressant effects concurrently in comorbid populations.
  • Future studies could examine duloxetine’s effects on mood specifically in fibromyalgia patients with MDD.

This systematic review and meta-analysis aimed to compare the efficacy and safety of various duloxetine doses to inform clinical practice.


The authors searched major databases in December 2022 for randomized controlled trials investigating duloxetine for fibromyalgia. Strict eligibility criteria were applied, including double-blind placebo-controlled trials, minimum 4 weeks follow-up, and quantitative outcome data. Outcomes examined were the Fibromyalgia Impact Questionnaire (FIQ), Brief Pain Inventory (BPI), Clinical Global Impression (CGI) scales, adverse events, and study discontinuations.

11 studies with 3432 patients met inclusion criteria. Meta-analyses compared duloxetine to placebo for all efficacy outcomes. Duloxetine doses examined were 30 mg/day, 30-60 mg/day, 60 mg/day, 60-120 mg/day, and 120 mg/day. Rigorous methodology was employed, including independent screening and data extraction.

Key Findings

  • All duloxetine doses significantly improved FIQ, BPI, and CGI versus placebo, demonstrating efficacy.
  • 60 mg/day provided the greatest FIQ improvement, exceeding the minimal clinically important difference.
  • Adverse events were lowest with placebo and increased in a dose-dependent manner.
  • Discontinuations were lowest with 60-120 mg/day and highest with 120 mg/day.
  • No single optimal dose could be determined – customization to individual patients is recommended.

Customizing duloxetine doses

  • The 60 mg/day dose provided the greatest improvement in FIQ scores (15.1 points), exceeding the minimal clinically important difference of 14%.
  • However, 60-120 mg/day did not meet the MCID for FIQ improvement (8 points).
  • Adverse events increased dose-dependently – 65% with 30 mg/day up to 176% with 120 mg/day.
  • Discontinuations were lower with 60-120 mg/day (5%) versus 30 mg/day (9%) and 120 mg/day (33%).

Influencing new drug development

  • All duloxetine doses significantly improved BPI pain severity and interference versus placebo.
  • This supports targeting serotonin/norepinephrine systems for analgesia.
  • New drugs could utilize alternate mechanisms like SNRIs with different binding profiles.
  • Future trials may examine lower starting doses based on discontinuation patterns seen.

Diagnostic challenges affecting applicability

  • 90% of included patients were women, limiting generalizability to men.
  • Mean BMI was 25.3 – results may differ in obesity or normal/low BMI patients.
  • Different versions of FIQ were used, making synthesizing results difficult.
  • Applying standardized, validated criteria is important for generalizability.


This comprehensive analysis provides strong evidence that duloxetine at doses from 30 mg/day to 120 mg/day effectively reduces fibromyalgia symptoms compared to placebo. Greater benefits were observed at 60 mg/day for FIQ and CGI outcomes. However, duloxetine also showed a clear dose-response for adverse events, highlighting the need to balance efficacy and tolerability.

The results align with previous evidence demonstrating duloxetine’s benefits in fibromyalgia, including other meta-analyses. However, optimal dosing remains uncertain. Reasons may include flexible dosing schemes in studies, the lack of head-to-head dose comparisons, and individual variability in treatment response and side effects.

Overall, the findings support the practice of initiating duloxetine at lower doses (30-60 mg/day), then titrating based on patient response and tolerability. Further research directly comparing fixed duloxetine doses could better define optimal starting doses. Limitations of this review include the limited follow-up periods in included trials and the use of the original FIQ rather than the revised version.

Implications for clinical guidelines

  • Current guidelines recommend SNRIs like duloxetine as first-line pharmacological options.
  • This study provides additional evidence supporting duloxetine’s efficacy for pain and other fibromyalgia symptoms.
  • It reinforces the guideline approach of initiating duloxetine at lower doses (30-60 mg/day).
  • Findings on customization and dose-dependent adverse events further support individualized dosing.

Comparative efficacy to other SNRIs

  • Other SNRIs like milnacipran have shown similar efficacy to duloxetine.
  • Head-to-head comparisons are lacking to differentiate duloxetine from other SNRIs.
  • Equivalent efficacy is expected due to similar mechanisms, but comparative safety is unknown.
  • Duloxetine may have advantages in patients with comorbid depression.

Long-term safety concerns

  • Only up to 6 months of treatment was examined in these trials. Long-term adverse events are uncertain.
  • Nausea, dizziness, somnolence appear to be dose-dependent in the short term.
  • Sustained higher doses could increase risks of hypertension, liver toxicity, suicidal ideation.
  • Lower discontinuations with 60-120 mg/day highlight the need to find the minimally effective dose.


In conclusion, this systematic review and meta-analysis provides robust evidence that duloxetine significantly improves fibromyalgia symptoms at doses between 30-120 mg/day compared to placebo.

Due to substantial individual variability in efficacy and adverse effects, duloxetine dosing should be individualized and optimized for each patient. Starting at 30-60 mg/day and titrating accordingly is a reasonable approach. Further comparative effectiveness research could elucidate optimal dosing strategies.

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MD, PhD. Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation Physician from São Paulo - Brazil. Pain Fellowship in University of São Paulo.

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