The type 2 diabetes drug metformin could be used to reduce the pain of fibromyalgia, researchers have said.

Fibromyalgia is a chronic condition that causes pain all over the body, and is one of the most common conditions causing pain and disability.

A team from the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston have been investigating how to treat people with the condition and found that metformin, which targets insulin resistance, helped dramatically reduce the pain.

Metformin is prescribed for people with type 2 diabetes to help lower blood glucose levels, and has also shown benefits, or potential, in helping people with other conditions including polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and some cancers.

The researchers believe their findings could lead to a pioneering change in how chronic pain is treated in the future, potentially saving billions in painkillers.

Using the HbA1c test, a common blood test that is used to diagnose diabetes, the researchers also found they were able to use the test to also identify fibromyalgia. Previous work have found links between insulin resistance and brain dysfunction, but a potential association with fibromyalgia has not been widely explored.

Lead researcher Dr Miguel Pappolla, professor of neurology, said: “We showed that most – if not all – patients with fibromyalgia can be identified by their HbA1c levels, which reflects average blood sugar levels over the past two to three months.”

Despite extensive research the cause of fibromyalgia is unknown, so there’s no specific diagnostics or therapies for this condition other than pain-reducing drugs.

“Considering the extensive research on fibromyalgia, we were puzzled that prior studies had overlooked this simple connection. The main reason for this oversight is that about half of fibromyalgia patients have HbA1c values currently considered within the normal range.

“However, this is the first study to analyse these levels normalized for the person’s age, as optimal HbA1c levels do vary throughout life. Adjustment for the patients’ age was critical in highlighting the differences between patients and control subjects.”

The findings appear online in the journal PLOS One.

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