Fibromyalgia is a condition that is easily confused with other health issues, such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. For the latest study researchers had participants complete the Revised Fibromyalgia Impact Questionnaire (FIQR) and the Symptom Impact Questionnaire (SIQ). The questionnaires were used to determine specific features that could outline differences between fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.
Results from both questionnaires revealed the biggest differences between the three conditions involved ‘tenderness to touch,’ ‘difficulty cleaning floors’ and ‘discomfort on sitting for 45 minutes.’ Other differences included mid-lower back pain, tenderness to touch, neck pain, hand pain, arm pain, outer lower back pain and sitting for 45 minutes.
The researchers concluded that these areas of pain should be combined for a new questionnaire to better diagnose and recognize fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.
What is fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia is a condition that causes muscle pain and fatigue. This pain and tenderness is felt throughout the entire body. Symptoms of fibromyalgia include:
- Trouble sleeping
- Morning stiffness
- Painful menstrual periods
- Tingling or numbness in hands and feet
- Problems with thinking or memory – fibro fog
Other pain conditions may coincide with fibromyalgia, such as irritable bowel syndrome or chronic fatigue syndrome. Unfortunately, the exact cause of fibromyalgia is unknown, but doctors suspect that stressful or traumatic events, repetitive injuries, illness, or other specific diseases may factor into the development of fibromyalgia. Genes, too, may play a role in fibromyalgia, which make a person far more sensitive to pain than others.
Rheumatoid arthritis vs fibromyalgia
Although rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia may present themselves similarly, they are two very different conditions. The Arthritis Foundation considers fibromyalgia to be an arthritis-like condition but they, too, recognize the distinct differences.
The first difference begins with inflammation. Joint inflammation is the number one sign of rheumatoid arthritis, but it is not present in fibromyalgia. There is no joint damage in fibromyalgia, like there would be in rheumatoid arthritis, due to lack of inflammation.
Another major difference is the progression of each illness. Fibromyalgia does not progress, meaning even the symptoms may occur in episodes that do not worsen over time. Rheumatoid arthritis, on the other hand, can progress and worsen as time goes on due to continued damage to the joints.
Lastly, a person with rheumatoid arthritis may notice pain in one side of the body and then the same pain on the other. For example, if the right wrist hurts, then the left one will follow. This is due to an abnormal immune system response that leads to inflammation. Pain in fibromyalgia is all over and is not caused by an immune system response.
Difference between lupus and fibromyalgia
A woman who experiences chronic pain and fatigue may receive an incorrect diagnosis of fibromyalgia for lupus, especially if antinuclear antibodies are present in their blood work. But just like rheumatoid arthritis, although lupus and fibromyalgia may initially present themselves the same, they are actually quite different.
The easiest way to determine the difference between lupus and fibromyalgia is if there is a lupus rash or lupus kidney disease present. The pain experienced in fibromyalgia is largely in part due to poor sleep, fatigue and lack of concentration.
Treatment of fibromyalgia and lupus are quite different as well. Lupus is treated with autoimmune disease medications, while fibromyalgia is treated with low-dose antidepressants, muscle relaxants and nerve medications.
Overlap symptoms of lupus and rheumatoid arthritis
Lupus and rheumatoid arthritis also have many overlapping symptoms, which can make initial diagnosis difficult. Symptoms that overlap between lupus and rheumatoid arthritis are:
- Joint pain
- Neurologic or kidney problems
- Joint swelling
- Joints become hot and tender
- Low energy – fatigue
- Periodic fever
The main differences between lupus and rheumatoid arthritis are that although both conditions affect the joints, lupus will also affect internal organs. Furthermore, lupus can be a life-threatening condition, while rheumatoid arthritis will not jeopardize your life. Lastly, rheumatoid arthritis pain is the worst in the morning and improves by the evening, while lupus pain is consistent throughout the entire day.
Other conditions commonly confused with fibromyalgia
Lupus and rheumatoid arthritis aren’t the only conditions often confused with fibromyalgia. There are many reasons why fibromyalgia may be confused with other illnesses. For starters, fibromyalgia shares many common symptoms with other conditions – pain and fatigue. Also, there are no definite tests to diagnose fibromyalgia, so a doctor must base their diagnosis on ruling out other conditions or on the symptoms the patient expresses. Lastly, many people also have other conditions that coexist with their fibromyalgia, which could be masking it or at least making diagnosis more difficult.
Other conditions commonly confused with fibromyalgia are:
- Chronic fatigue syndrome
- Multiple sclerosis
- Polymyalgia rheumatica