The Difference Between Arthritis and Fibromyalgia

The Difference Between Arthritis and Fibromyalgia

Arthritis and Fibromyalgia: Two Different Causes for Chronic Pain

Chronic pain is the major symptom of both arthritis and fibromyalgia, two disorders that can be debilitating. In many ways these ailments are similar and differentiating between them in the early stages can be difficult even for physicians. There are, however, some basic differences that separate the two.

Arthritis is an inflammatory disease of the joints, primarily those of the hands, the knees and the hips. Inflammation involves swelling of the tissues, redness, increased temperature in the area and decrease in function. Fibromyalgia is sometimes considered a rheumatic disorder. But while the elbows, hands and shoulders may be sore, there is no evidence of inflammation. X-rays and clinical examination will be normal. The pain in fibromyalgia is not as focused as it is in arthritis. It is a diffuse aching in the muscles that tends to be concentrated in the shoulders, neck and back. Unlike arthritis, fibromyalgia does not cause breakdown of tissues. The disease does cause severe fatigue.

Symptoms of Arthritis:

  • Painful joints
  • Swelling
  • Stiffness
  • Redness
  • Decreased ability to move

Symptoms of Fibromyalgia

  • Diffuse soreness and aching in muscles
  • Localized tenderness in specific spots called fibromyalgia tender points
  • Chronic fatigue
  • Depression
  • Chronic facial or jaw tenderness
  • Headaches
  • Difficulty focusing mentally
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome

Differences Between Arthritis and Fibromyalgia:

  • Inflammation found only in arthritis.
  • Tissue destruction found only in arthritis.
  • Fibromyalgia predominantly found in women, while arthritis afflicts both genders.
  • Only arthritic conditions can be diagnosed by blood tests.
  • No x-ray abnormalities in fibromyalgia.
  • Surgery sometimes helpful in arthritis, but never in fibromyalgia.
  • Exercise is an effective treatment for both diseases.

Fibromyalgia is usually a diagnosis of exclusion. When the physical examination is completed and the laboratory results and imaging have been evaluated, a physician may consider fibromyalgia if all the findings are essentially normal, especially if the patient has pronounced soreness at the fibromyalgia tender points.
There is no cure for either disease, but there are treatments that can make living with either condition a great deal more bearable. Staying active is one of the best treatments for both ailments. Walking, swimming and yoga are excellent for both arthritis and fibromyalgia.


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