Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome; Are They the Same Thing?

Many people get these two diseases confused and interchange the terms. Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) are different diseases with similar symptoms. Some people unfortunately even have both conditions. Fibromyalgia is a disorder that causes muscle pain and fatigue. Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is a complex disorder with profound fatigue that is not improved with rest and may worsen with physical or mental activity. Both conditions have similar symptoms but have some unique qualities. Fibromyalgia is characterized with trouble sleeping, morning stiffness, headaches, painful menstrual periods, tingling or numbness in hands and feet and problems with thinking and memory (“fibro fog‚Äù). CFS patients will also suffer from short-term memory or concentration problems, muscle pain, and headaches; additionally they will only achieve unrefreshing sleep, exhibit tender lymph nodes, and experience joint pain without swelling or redness.

Both conditions are difficult to diagnose and define. As a result many patients feel stigmatized as suffering from a mental condition rather than a physical one. There are no specific diagnostic tests available for concrete diagnosis of either condition. In many cases the diagnosis is made by excluding other known conditions before a diagnosis of CFS or Fibromyalgia is made. Elimination of other conditions such as hypothyroidism, sleep apnea, narcolepsy, chronic mononucleosis, bipolar affective disorder, alcohol or substance abuse must be ruled out before diagnosing CFS or Fibromyalgia. There is no effective treatment other than treating the symptoms of either condition.

The cause or causes of these conditions is unknown. Genetic and environmental factors may play a role in causing and prolonging these illnesses. Fibromyalgia has been linked to stressful or traumatic events, repetitive injuries, other illness and diseases. According to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS) some scientists think that a gene or genes might be a factor in developing fibromyalgia.

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Recent research is linking a virus as the cause of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. This research is being done at Whittemore Peterson Institute in Reno under the guidance of Dr. Judy Mikovits. In her recently released study Dr. Mikovits has identified a virus called xenotropic murine leukemia virus (XMRV) in patients who have CFS. The National Cancer Institute is taking XMRV seriously and is conducting its own studies.

Chronic conditions such as Fibromyalgia and CFS wreck havoc with peoples lives. Inability to concentrate on tasks, move without pain or achieve any meaningful rest disturbs normal family and work patterns. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) somewhere between 1 and 4 million Americans suffer from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS). About 25% of these patients are seriously impaired and can not work and are on disability. 40% of people in the general population who report CFS symptoms have a serious, treatable, undetected medical or psychiatric condition such as diabetes, thyroid disease or substance abuse. CFS strikes more women than men between the ages of 30-50.

Fibromyalgia affects 5 million Americans according to the NIAMS. 80-90% of patients are women. Most are diagnosed in middle age. Women with a family member with fibromyalgia may be more likely to have this disease. Additionally people with rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus erythematosus or spinal arthritis might be predisposed to develop fibromyalgia.

Both conditions are difficult to diagnosis, have no cure and generally are long term chronic conditions which can seriously disrupt an individual’s normal life. It is important to seek medical treatment to rule out other medical or psychiatric conditions and to learn to manage the underlying symptoms of these conditions.

  • diane

    This was extremely helpful since I just came from my son’s PCP and was informed that CFS and fibromyalgia are the same thing. His rheumotologist diagnosed my son with fibromyalgia and I believe he has CFS. Now I know I’m not completely crazy. Thank you

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