You feel chronic pain waking you up in the middle of the night, or limiting you from taking part in daily activities. Over time, you feel the intense pain worsen, and have yet to reach a possible conclusion until your doctor suggests it may be fibromyalgia.
But what exactly is fibromyalgia? This disorder is characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain that is also accompanied by fatigue, sleep, memory, and mood issues, according to the Mayo Clinic. Researchers believe that fibromyalgia intensifies painful sensations by affecting how the brain processes pain.
Unfortunately, fibromyalgia symptoms are so common that it can go underdiagnosed and misdiagnosed due to similar problems. “Fibromyalgia is a disorder of the central nervous system that causes widespread pain,” said Seth Lederman, MD, a physician, scientist, and co-founder and CEO of Tonix, a pharmaceuticals company. “Most often, people with this long-term illness are fatigued, have sleep problems, and are plagued with tenderness throughout the body, especially in the neck, shoulders, arms, back, hips, and legs.” Since there is no current blood test or scan available to detect chronic pain disorders or fibromyalgia, many physicians have trouble diagnosing it. Here are common conditions that your doctor may want to consider before diagnosing you with fibromyalgia.
Although both these conditions have several similarities, such as widespread pain and constant fatigue, they also have their differences. “Many people tend to think that fibromyalgia is an actual form of arthritis, but that is not the case,” said Michael H. Lowenstein, Ph.D., medical director at the Waismann Method Opioid Treatment Center in southern California. “While it is characterized by pain, FM does not cause tissue inflammation, nor does it physically damage the body’s muscles, and joints like arthritis is known to do.”
During the early stages of arthritis, the physical damage can be light, so patients might only experience the painful sensations, muscle stiffness, and exhaustion that are more similar to FM symptoms. Only later, when arthritic symptoms have fully developed, can a doctor rule out fibromyalgia by taking an X-ray.
6. Multiple Sclerosis
While these two share similar symptoms like chronic pain that affects most of the body, multiple sclerosis and fibromyalgia are very different diseases. “MS is a neurological condition that attacks and destroys the myelin, or protective coating, surrounding our body’s nerves,” said Anca D. Askanase, MD, MPH, a rheumatologist and associate professor of medicine at Columbia University Medical Center. “Once the damage is done to the outer layer of the nerves, MS attacks the nerves themselves, causing the individual to lose sensation throughout their body.”
Fibromyalgia symptoms such as chronic pain felt throughout the body are similar to MS, but there are many symptoms that the two do not have in common. “Symptoms of MS that may be different to FM include difficulty walking, blurred eyesight, and slurred speech,” said Dr. Lederman. Unfortunately, both conditions are difficult for physicians to diagnose. “Most physicians can only come to a diagnosis of FM or MS after they’ve ruled out other possible causes,” said Nathan Wei, MD, a board-certified rheumatologist.