Fibromyalgia vs. Lupus, differences in symptoms, pain, causes, and treatment

Fibromyalgia vs lupusFibromyalgia and lupus are two conditions that can cause pain, but it’s important to recognize the many significant differences between the two. Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), or lupus, is an autoimmune systemic disorder, which affects the joints, skin, and practically any organ in the body. Fibromyalgia affects the muscles causing pain, tender points, and extreme fatigue, and can contribute to anxiety or depression.

Both lupus and fibromyalgia are difficult to diagnose, and many patients with fibromyalgia are often wrongly diagnosed with lupus and vice versa. Furthermore, the two diseases can actually overlap one another, and there is a higher risk of rheumatic disease in fibromyalgia patients.


Fibromyalgia affects roughly two percent of the population and women are more likely to develop fibromyalgia than men. Estimates of lupus cases in the U.S. are 161,000 with definite lupus and 322,000 with definite or probable lupus.  Like fibromyalgia, lupus often affects women more than men, too.

Table: Fibromyalgia vs. Lupus comparing symptoms and pain

Below is a table that gives you an easy comparison between fibromyalgia and lupus symptoms to help outline the similarities and differences seen in either disease.

Fibromyalgia vs. lupus symptom chart

Lupus SymptomsFibromyalgia Symptoms

Fibromyalgia vs. Lupus: difference in symptoms and causes

The above chart outlined many symptoms that lupus and fibromyalgia share which could contribute to the misdiagnosis of both diseases. It is the key differences, though, that help solidify a proper diagnosis and distinguish the two diseases.

First and foremost, lupus and fibromyalgia have very different causes. Lupus is an autoimmune systemic disorder in which the immune system mistakenly attacks its own healthy cells. Fibromyalgia does have some genetic predisposition, but generally it is triggered by unmanaged emotional stress, anxiety, and emotional trauma. The exact cause of fibromyalgia is still unknown.

Lupus can affect any system in the body. The symptoms that can help conclude a definite diagnosis include arthritis, photosensitivity, malar rash, protein in urine, oral ulcers, and lower white blood cell count.

Fibromyalgia is a muscular disease, so symptoms include muscles pain and fatigue, disturbed sleep, and all-over body aches with specific tender points.

Fibromyalgia vs. Lupus: complications, mortality, hospitalization, and costs

Systemic lupus erythematosus, or SLE, is an autoimmune disease that mistakenly attacks healthy tissue in the body, and research shows it raises mortality rates by as much as 67 percent, with young adults being at the highest risk. The Lupus Foundation of America estimates that about 5 million people suffer from some form of lupus worldwide. Systemic lupus erythematosus is the most common form of the disease, but there are other types, such as lupus limited to the skin and neonatal lupus. The recent study, which was published in Rheumatology, indicates that mortality appears to be 67 percent higher for those with systemic lupus erythematosus than for adults without the disease. After analyzing lupus patient data in the United Kingdom between 1999 and 2012, researchers discovered that the mortality rate for people with SLE was more than three times higher for those who were under the age of 40 than it was for young adults without the autoimmune condition. The most common causes of death in the lupus analysis were circulatory disease and malignancies. However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that oftentimes, the cause of death for lupus patients can be organ failure, or cardiovascular disease brought on by atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is when an artery wall thickens as a result of white blood cells accumulating and smooth muscle cell creating fatty plaque. The researchers from the United Kingdom’s University of Nottingham looked at close to 3,000 lupus patients, 200 of whom died. They calculated mortality rate and looked at men verses women, determining that men were about twice as likely to die at any given time as females with SLE. It is interesting to note that 90 percent of people diagnosed with lupus are women. It is also important to point out that the study showed the relative risk for death was highest at a younger age, but nearly the same by age 80. The findings have prompted those involved in the study to call for improvement in treatment for systemic lupus erythmatosus (SLE) patients, especially patients who are young adults. Lupus mortality rates vary by race, ethnicity As it turns out, lupus death rates appear to vary depending on race. Last year, Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston conducted a study that revealed lower mortality rates among Asian and Hispanic lupus patients. The researchers, who had their findings published in the Arthritis and Rheumatology journal, reviewed Medicaid claims that were filed by over 42,000 lupus sufferers between the years 2000 and 2006. By racial ethnic group, the percentages of people with lupus were as follows: black, 40 percent; white, 38 percent; Hispanic, 15 percent; and Native American, 2 percent. Hispanic and Asian lupus sufferers had the lowest mortality rates. The rate was highest among Native Americans, followed by blacks, and then whites. The analysis showed death rates were 52 percent lower among Hispanics and 41 percent lower among Asians, compared with whites. Using a special risk adjustment index, the study did adjust for other health conditions in subjects, including pericarditis, which is inflammation of the tissue surrounding the heart; thrombocytopenia, a deficiency of platelets in the blood; seizures, and anemia. Blacks had higher scores on the risk adjustment index, while Hispanics and Asians had lower scores. Whites had low scores except for a higher rate of lupus nephritis, which is lupus of the kidneys. The index showed that Native Americans had more diabetes and obesity. The analysis also took socioeconomic and lifestyle factors into consideration. The researchers say these factors play a role in health outcomes, particularly when dealing with our immune system. Right now, an estimated 1.5 million United States residents of all different ethnicities suffer from some type of lupus. Experts say knowing variations in death rates among ethnic groups is key to figuring out the best methods to treat each patient, modify risk factors, and of course improve survival for people who are suffering from lupus. Improve living with lupus with these tips With proper care, the majority of people who suffer from lupus – that is 80 to 90 percent – can live a normal lifespan. Even young adults at higher risk of mortality can do something to improve their chances of better health. Here are a few tips for living with lupus: • Flare-ups: proper medication/therapies can help control flare-ups and prevent lasting organ damage, so work closely with your doctor to monitor your condition. • Heart care: lupus can be hard on your cardiovascular system, so have your heart checked regularly. • Brain care: report any changes in mood, memory, or concentration to the doctor. Lupus can impact your neurological pathways. • Pregnancy: becoming pregnant while lupus is quiet (not flaring) seems to result in healthier pregnancies. • Joint care: regular exercise can help ward off stiffness and swelling associated with lupus. • Diet: a heart-healthy diet has proved to be helpful for those suffering from lupus. • Sun exposure: protect yourself from the sun. About 50 percent of lupus patients get troublesome skin rashes due to sun exposure. Lupus can be a serious disease. Years ago, it was a death sentence, but today with more knowledge and modern medical therapies, lupus patients can live a full life. If you suffer from lupus, you have some power to keep the disease under control by avoiding certain things, paying close attention to symptoms, and seeing your doctor on a regular basis. Related Reading: Lupus and antiphospholipid syndrome (APS) in women may reduce fertility, cause pregnancy complications New medical evidence suggests that women with the autoimmune diseases lupus and antiphospholipid syndrome (APS) may be at risk of reduced fertility and pregnancy complications. Many people are familiar with lupus, the chronic autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system attacks normal, healthy tissues. Antiphospholipid syndrome or APS is not as recognized among the general population. Antiphospholipid syndrome, often referred to as Hughes syndrome, is an immune condition that leads to an increased risk of blood clots. This could mean blood clots in the legs, in the arteries leading to the heart, or blood clots in the brain. Continue reading… Lupus risk associated with chronic exposure to staph (staphylococcus aureus) bacteria Lupus risk is associated with chronic exposure to staph (staphylococcus aureus) bacteria. A study from the Mayo Clinic revealed that chronic exposure to staph – even in small amounts – increases the risk of lupus. Staph is commonly found in the nose or on the skin, and can lead to infections. The researchers exposed mice to low doses of a protein found in staph and found that the mice developed a lupus-like illness with kidney disease and autoantibodies commonly found in lupus patients. Continue reading…Over the period between 1979 and 1998, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported approximately 23 annual deaths from fibromyalgia. Mortality among fibromyalgia patients is usually on par with the general population, but suicide rates and injuries are higher among fibromyalgia patients.

In 1997, fibromyalgia hospitalizations accounted for 7,440 patients and annually fibromyalgia costs each person $3,400 to $3,600.

During the same time period, lupus mortality accounted for 879 to 1,406 deaths annually, with rates rising. Estimations of lupus-related hospitalizations were 39,400 in 2010, and an average cost to the U.S. healthcare system was estimated to be $13.3 billion.

Fibromyalgia complications result from lack of sleep, which can interfere with daily function as being tired can impair memory, focus, and increase the risk of injury. Other complications may include depression and anxiety, and the disease is still very much misunderstood.

Complications of lupus include severe kidney damage, damage to the brain and central nervous system, problems with the blood and blood vessels, inflammation of the lungs and chest cavity, inflammation of the heart, increased risk of infection, cancer, bone tissue death, and pregnancy complications.

Fibromyalgia vs. Lupus: diagnosis and treatment

Diagnosis of fibromyalgia includes an extensive review of the patient’s medical history along with the presentation of symptoms. A physical examination with the identification of tender points aids in fibromyalgia diagnosis.

To diagnose lupus, blood work is conducted to check white blood cell count. Another diagnostic tool is the anti-dsDNA test for positive antinuclear antibodies, which are elevated in autoimmune disorders and not present in fibromyalgia.

Common treatment for lupus is steroidal therapy with immunosuppressant drugs. Fibromyalgia does not respond to steroidal drugs or immunosuppressants, so treatment may require a combination of therapies. Painkillers, antidepressants, and muscle relaxants may help aid in fibromyalgia symptom management.

As you can see, although there are similarities between lupus and fibromyalgia, there are plenty of differences that really set either condition apart. With proper testing, your doctor can diagnose you correctly and have you started on the best mode of treatment.

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Author Bio

Emily Lunardo studied medical sociology at York University with a strong focus on the social determinants of health and mental illness. She is a registered Zumba instructor, as well as a Canfit Pro trainer, who teaches fitness classes on a weekly basis. Emily practices healthy habits in her own life as well as helps others with their own personal health goals. Emily joined Bel Marra Health as a health writer in 2013.