Fibromyalgia vs. Lupus
Both fibromyalgia and lupus (and even multiple sclerosis) are two very misunderstood conditions. The two conditions share similar symptoms, but there is a key difference between them. Keep reading on to find out more about fibromyalgia vs. lupus – how are they different?
What Is Fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia is a chronic health condition which causes widespread pain and a variety of other symptoms. Scientists are only just beginning to understand what causes fibromyalgia and there is currently no known cure.
Fibromyalgia mainly affects women between 30 and 50 years old. It is thought there may be a genetic component and physical or emotional stress often triggers it.
In fibromyalgia, the way that the nervous system and brain process pain is altered. It is thought that decreased levels of serotonin and increased levels of substance P are responsible.
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter which plays an important role in many of our biological functions. It can affect our mood, sleep, digestion and motor skills. Substance P is a protein which plays a role in transmitting nerve signals, including pain.
An imbalance in these two chemicals means that people with fibromyalgia are more sensitive to physical sensations such as pain. Combined with other symptoms, this can have a serious impact on their quality of life.
Symptoms of Fibromyalgia
The main symptom of fibromyalgia is a widespread pain throughout the body. This means either severe pain in three to six different areas or mild to moderate pain in seven areas or more. This pain may vary on a day to day basis and can affect different parts of the body at different times.
Other symptoms of fibromyalgia include:
- Muscle stiffness
- Non-refreshing sleep
- Problems with concentration or memory
- Irritable bowels or bladder
These symptoms can make even simple daily tasks into a challenge. On a good day, someone with fibromyalgia may be able to carry out their normal activities, but on a bad day, they may struggle to get out of bed. This can interfere with work and social engagements, which may lead to further problems such as anxiety and depression.
There is no known cure for fibromyalgia and treatment is limited to managing symptoms. Commonly prescribed drugs include painkillers and antidepressants. Lifestyle changes are also important in managing fibromyalgia.
Regular, gentle exercise is one of the best ways to deal with pain and stiffness associated with fibromyalgia. CBT may to improve mental well-being and help with some of the daily challenges that people with fibromyalgia face. Finally, relaxation techniques such as meditation can be useful to reduce stress and keep a positive attitude towards life.
What Is Lupus?
Lupus, or systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), is an autoimmune disorder. This means that the immune system fails to recognize the body’s own tissues and begins to attack them. This can cause many different symptoms depending on which part of the body is being affected. In lupus, the immune system attacks the joints, skin, and organs causing inflammation and other issues.
It is still unclear why some people suffer from autoimmune disorders, but it is thought that there may be genetic and environmental factors. Autoimmune disorders such as lupus are often triggered by a period of physical or emotional stress, and they affect more women than men. Lupus is most common in women of African or Caribbean descent under the age of 50.
When people talk about fibromyalgia pain, they may use the terms tender points and trigger points, but what is the difference between the two?
Symptoms of Lupus
Lupus can cause a number of different symptoms throughout the body. The most common include:
- Joint pain and stiffness
- Fatigue, even after periods of rest
- Skin rashes, especially over the nose and cheeks
- Hair loss
- Weight loss
- Dry eyes
- Organ damage including the kidneys, heart, lungs, and brain
These symptoms may get better for a period and then flare up again later. These flare-ups may be triggered by stress, tiredness, infections or overexposure to sunlight. This means that people with lupus may need to change their lifestyle significantly in order to adapt to their condition.
There is currently no cure for lupus and treatment is focussed on managing symptoms and preventing flare-ups. Medications such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and steroids may be used to reduce inflammation and pain.
Hydroxychloroquine is an anti-malarial drug which is also often used in the treatment of lupus. This works to alleviate pain, relieve skin rashes and reduce fatigue.
Newer drugs such as rituximab and belimumab can be used to suppress the immune system and stop it from attacking the body. However, these drugs can cause serious side effects and are usually only prescribed when other therapies have been unsuccessful.
If you have lupus, it is important to get enough rest, keep your stress levels down and avoid overexposure to sunlight. This will help you to manage your symptoms and reduce the risk of flare-ups.
Fibromyalgia vs. Lupus: Differentiating Fibromyalgia and Lupus
There are many similarities between the symptoms of fibromyalgia and lupus. Both cause pain, stiffness, and fatigue. Both diseases are poorly understood, and both are currently incurable. Both affect women more than men, and they may occur at a similar age.
However, it is important to differentiate between fibromyalgia and lupus so that the correct treatment can be given.
The first method for differentiating fibromyalgia and lupus is a diagnosis. There is no definitive diagnostic test for fibromyalgia. One test involves pressing certain spots on the body and looking for tenderness. However, this is not always entirely accurate. Fibromyalgia is usually only diagnosed by the presenting symptoms and ruling out any other causes for them.
Lupus, on the other hand, can be diagnosed by a blood test which checks for raised levels of a particular antibody. This, along with organ scans or x-rays can be used to confirm a diagnosis.
Another way to differentiate between fibromyalgia and lupus is by looking at differences in symptoms. For example, the rash which is a common symptom of lupus will not be present in fibromyalgia.
Finally, the pain experienced in fibromyalgia and lupus may be different. People living with fibromyalgia usually experience sore or tender muscles. People with lupus are more prone to joint pain with stiffness and loss of mobility.
It is also possible that somebody could have both fibromyalgia and lupus, which would cause some overlap in symptoms.
Living With Fibromyalgia or Lupus
The first step towards living with either of these conditions is to receive a proper diagnosis from your physician. This will enable them to prescribe the most appropriate treatment and recommend any lifestyle changes that may be required.
For both fibromyalgia and lupus, you should try to maintain a good balance between gentle exercise and rest. Relax as much as you need to and try to keep a positive mindset. Finally, talk to your family and friends about your condition so that they can understand how it affects you, and offer help and support when needed.