Fibromyalgia vs. rheumatoid arthritis differences and comorbidity in symptoms, treatments

By: Devon Andre | Fibromyalgia | Friday, April 08, 2016 - 11:30 AM

Fibromyalgia vs. rheumatoid arthritisFibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis are similar in the sense that their primary symptom is pain, but even though the two may share some similarities, distinguishing between them can help choose the appropriate and most effective treatment method for it. Unfortunately, sometimes the two conditions can exist together, which can make treatment that much more difficult.

Fibromyalgia is difficult to diagnose as there is no standard test that can reveal its presence. For example, there are no changes in the blood or to the organs. Rheumatoid arthritis, on the other hand, is characterized by joint inflammation, swelling, and damage to the joints.

Fibromyalgia has been seen in rheumatoid arthritis, in fact, estimates show that fibromyalgia occurs in 13 to 17 percent of rheumatoid arthritis patients. Patients with both rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia tend to have worse symptoms, compared to patients with just one of the diseases. These individuals also generally have a worse overall quality of life and are at higher risk for conditions like heart disease, depression, and even diabetes.

Typical symptoms of fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis

Fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis actually share quite a bit of symptoms. As mentioned, the primary one is pain. To understand which condition you have, it’s important to recognize the symptoms to distinguish between the two.

Common symptoms in fibromyalgia include: Pain in specific points of the body (tender points), flu like pain, depression/anger, anxiety, extreme fatigue, chronic back pain, constipation and diarrhea, jaw or facial tenderness, and headache or migraines.

Common symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis include: pain in affected joints, stiffness, creaking of joints or crunching or crackling, reduced appetite, general feeling of unwell, fatigue, swollen glands, and general feeling of weakness.

The key difference between fibromyalgia pain and rheumatoid arthritis symptoms is that in fibromyalgia there is no inflammation or destruction of joints, and fibromyalgia cannot be seen on the X-ray, whereas rheumatoid arthritis can.

Differences between fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis symptoms

The below chart will easily help you distinguish between the differences of fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis.

Sign or Symptom Fibromyalgia Rheumatoid Arthritis
Damage to joints No Yes
Inflammation of joints No Yes
Surgery as treatment Never Sometimes
Can be identified with blood testing No Yes
Can be identified with x-ray No Yes
Extreme fatigue Yes Sometimes
Type of pain Muscle pain Joint pain
Depression Common Less common
Headaches Common Less common

Difference between fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis. Download comparison chart (JPG)

Rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia together: signs and treatment

When fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis coexist, the severity of symptoms may increase. Researchers are still unaware as to why there is a higher prevalence of fibromyalgia in rheumatoid arthritis patients, but they do know that fibromyalgia patients don’t have higher rates of rheumatoid arthritis, suggesting it has more to do with arthritis than it does with fibromyalgia for the coexistence.

Common symptoms seen when fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis occur together are joint pain, pain on both sides of the body, fatigue, depression, and low energy.

Treatments for fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis together include:

  • Over-the-counter pain relievers
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatories
  • COX-2 inhibitors
  • Glucocorticoids
  • Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs)
  • TNF blockers

In cases of severe joint damage, surgery may be required.

Sometimes treating fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis together can lead to complications, so speak to your doctor to determine which is the safest combination of medications to take with minimal adverse effects. In some cases, fibromyalgia medications can worsen rheumatoid arthritis symptoms and vice versa, so in the beginning, it may be some trial and error to find the right combination of treatment options.

Because there is no cure for either condition, sticking to your treatment plan can help you manage your symptoms and live a normal life.

Manage fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis through home remedies

Due to the overlap between fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis, there are many home remedies that can work for both. Home remedies to help manage fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis include:

  • Reducing stress
  • Getting proper sleep
  • Exercising regularly
  • Pacing yourself when completing a task
  • Maintaining a healthy lifestyle by eating well, limiting caffeine and alcohol, not smoking, and enjoying your favorite hobbies
  • Applying cold or heat packs to relieve pain
  • Relaxing
  • Working with your doctor to find the best treatment for you and informing them if you notice any changes to your condition
  • Knowing your limits and not pushing yourself to do more if it doesn’t feel right
  • Connecting with others for emotional support
  • Taking time for yourself
  • Completing difficult tasks earlier on in the day when you have more energy and are in less pain as opposed to later on

By following these tips and the guidelines set out by your doctor, you can have greater success living with fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis.

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