Fibromyalgia is a complex condition that affects many of the body’s functions. The most telltale symptom is widespread pain and tenderness in the muscles and joints. Unlike MS, fibromyalgia is not an autoimmune disease.
Currently, the medical community does not fully understand what causes fibromyalgia. The symptoms appear to result from the central nervous system sending the wrong signals to the brain.
In this article, learn about the differences between MS and fibromyalgia and how doctors diagnose and treat these conditions.
Fibromyalgia and MS share some symptoms, such as muscle weakness and pain. However, there are key differences, including the types of pain and accompanying issues:
Fibromyalgia pain is typically widespread and lasts a long time.
The skin may always feel tender, and some areas may be more sensitive than others.
People with fibromyalgia often describe the pain as dull, achy, and persistent.
Fibromyalgia pain often occurs on both sides of the body and in areas above and below the waist.
For a diagnosis of fibromyalgia, the pain must have lasted for at least 3 months.
Other symptoms of fibromyalgia include:
MS affects nerves throughout the body. Damaged nerves may fire without cause, leading to pain and other sensations in one or multiple areas.
The pain affects people differently, but some describe it as:
The severity can vary, depending on how far MS has progressed. Some people only experience tingling, while others experience widespread, debilitating pain.
Other symptoms of MS include:
Changes in speech: As the immune system damages the nerves, it can take more time for signals to reach the brain. This can make speech slow or difficult.
Vision changes: Nerve damage can also affect the eyes, leading to blurred or double vision. Some people experience extensive or complete vision loss.
Difficulty moving or walking: Nerve damage can lead to muscle weakness in the arms or legs, which can affect the way a person walks. Their gait may become disrupted or unsteady.
Coordination: Damage to the nerves can also inhibit a person’s coordination, causing them to feel off-balance or dizzy.
Bladder and bowel changes: People with MS may need to urinate or have bowel movements more frequently, for example.
Diagnosing either condition can be challenging, and it may involve a process of elimination.
If a doctor suspects that a person has MS, they will often use an MRI to check for damage to the brain and spinal cord.
If they are still unsure, they may request a lumbar puncture, which involves removing some fluid from the spine and checking it for antibodies that occur in cases of MS.
This is the most accurate way to diagnose the condition.
There is no single test for fibromyalgia, and a doctor may first need to rule out other explanations for symptoms.
Nerve conduction tests, electromyograms, skin biopsies, and blood tests are common methods that doctors use when diagnosing the condition. A doctor may also ask how small pains feel because they tend to hurt more in people with fibromyalgia.
The doctor may also investigate any tender points on the body. These are areas that are especially sensitive in people with fibromyalgia.
MS and fibromyalgia are long-term conditions, but neither is life-threatening.
Symptoms of fibromyalgia can be persistent, while those of MS can progress and become debilitating.
As there is no cure for either condition, treatments involve managing and reducing symptoms to improve the quality of life.
A thorough treatment plan can help relieve symptoms, prevent flare-ups, and slow the progression of the disease.
Some over-the-counter medications can provide temporary relief from symptoms such as pain. Options include:
The National Multiple Sclerosis Society in the United States lists many prescription medications that can help. A doctor may prescribe any of these drugs to:
Many alternative therapies may also help, including:
The National Fibromyalgia & Chronic Pain Association states that the following can help people manage the condition:
As there are not many direct medical treatments for the condition, complementary therapies may be a good option. These include:
Fibromyalgia and MS can be challenging to diagnose because their symptoms resemble those of many other conditions, including:
MS and fibromyalgia are different conditions that can cause similar symptoms. There is no cure for either condition, but there are many methods of managing symptoms.
Speak to a doctor about any undiagnosed symptoms and work with them to develop a comprehensive treatment strategy.