If you have symptoms that point to fibromyalgia but haven’t been diagnosed, you are not alone. Many people spend years working with doctors to rule out other diseases. That’s because a number of other conditions share fibromyalgia’s primary symptoms—chronic pain and fatigue.
Ruling Out Similar Conditions
Wouldn’t it be a relief if there was a simple lab test that could identify fibromyalgia? Unfortunately, there are no tests or X-rays available to diagnose the condition. As a result, doctors often look at conditions that share the same symptoms. Learn what other conditions can be mistaken for fibromyalgia and why finding a clear diagnosis is so important.
Rheumatoid arthritis may seem similar to fibromyalgia because pain is a primary symptom of this disease. But there are a lot of differences. Unlike fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis causes inflammation in the body. And some symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis are visible. For example, people with the condition may have swollen or deformed joints.
Doctors diagnose rheumatoid arthritis by a physical exam, blood tests that look specifically for rheumatoid factor and signs of inflammation, and X-rays to look for joint damage.
Lupus, a chronic disease that also causes fatigue and painful joints, can be difficult to diagnose because there is no specific test for it. But certain factors make it possible to differentiate it from fibromyalgia. For example, unlike fibromyalgia, lupus causes inflammation, arthritis, skin rashes, and damage to tissue and organs.
Doctors make a lupus diagnosis by taking into account your symptoms, medical history, and a series of lab tests.
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
Chronic fatigue syndrome is a complex disorder that some medical experts believe is closely related to fibromyalgia. People with chronic fatigue syndrome have many of the same symptoms as those with fibromyalgia, including pain, fatigue, brain fog, difficulty sleeping, headaches and more.
The main difference is that severe and overwhelming fatigue is the primary symptom of chronic fatigue syndrome, while pain is the dominant symptom of fibromyalgia.
Hypothyroidism occurs when the thyroid gland does not produce enough of the hormones the body needs to regulate metabolism and other functions. An underactive thyroid can cause a number of symptoms similar to fibromyalgia. These include fatigue, joint pain and more. However, unlike fibromyalgia, hypothyroidism can be confirmed with a blood test and treated with thyroid hormone.
When Conditions Overlap
Although it can be frustrating taking the time to rule out other conditions, it’s very important to do so. Not only is having a correct diagnosis vital to getting the right treatment, it may shed light on a bigger health picture. That’s because fibromyalgia not only mimics other conditions, it tends to overlap them. This means you may have fibromyalgia as well as another condition, like rheumatoid arthritis. In fact, you are at higher risk for fibromyalgia if you have a rheumatic disease—one that affects the joints, muscles and bones.
Getting the Best Treatment
Once you have a clear diagnosis, you can work with your doctor to develop a treatment plan. If you have more than one condition, treating fibromyalgia can affect how you and your doctor manage your other conditions. And the treatment of other conditions can affect the pain of fibromyalgia. Understanding all your medical needs can lead to the best treatment possible.
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