Arthritis and Fibromyalgia – What Are the Differences?

differences between arthritis and fibromyalgia

While they’re very different, Arthritis and Fibromyalgia (FMS) are two painful conditions that commonly go together.  Often confused for the same condition, Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) and Fibromyalgia are medically two different health problems that share very similar symptoms and treatment options. Learn more about the symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of both.

Rheumatoid Arthritis and Fibromyalgia

Rheumatoid Arthritis is an autoimmune disease, which in plain terms means that the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissues as if they were foreign substances. This abnormal immune response causes inflammation that can damage joints and other areas in the body. While Fibromyalgia is considered an arthritis related condition, it is not a “true form” of arthritis as it does not cause tissue inflammation, nor does it damage joints or muscles.

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Major differences of Arthritis vs Fibromyalgia

Arthritis                                            Fibromyalgia

Arthritis affects the joints which may secondarily cause muscle and tendon weakness and pain Fibromyalgia affects the muscles and tendons that support the joints, but does not affect the joints themselves
Arthritis is an inflammatory process and it is this inflammation that contributes to the break down and pain in the joints The pain experienced by those with Fibromyalgia is not caused by inflammation or swelling and there is no damage to any tissue
Arthritis can affect people of all ages including children. While some forms of arthritis predominantly affect woman, this is not true of all forms The majority of those diagnosed with Fibromyalgia are women over the age of 18, mostly ages 40-75

Symptoms and Diagnosis of Arthritis and Fibromyalgia

Arthritis is characterized by painful joints, especially with movement. RA can cause deformities in the joints of your body, which can affect your mobility. The muscles around the joints can also weaken and sometimes there is a grating feeling with motion. To diagnose Arthritis, your health care provider will consider your symptoms, perform a physical exam to check for swollen joints or loss of motion and do blood tests and X-rays to confirm the diagnosis.

There are no diagnostic tests to determine if a person has Fibromyalgia. Fibromyalgia is characterized by chronic pain that can be on both sides of the body, above and below the waist. There are 18 trigger points (or tender points) located all over the body that are commonly affected by Fibromyalgia. The trigger points are around the joints, not in the joints themselves. These trigger points are painful when touched. For a diagnosis of Fibromyalgia, at least eleven trigger points are confirmed to hurt when touched, along with chronic pain for at least 3 months. Fatigue, insomnia and depression are also common symptoms.

Treatment of Arthritis and Fibromyalgia

Treatment for both Arthritis and Fibromyalgia focuses on easing the symptoms and maintaining mobility. Treating Arthritis focuses on pain reduction and slowing the progression of the disease. Medications from over-the-counter anti-inflammatories and pain relieving creams to the newer class of biologic drugs are commonly prescribed to help reduce and control inflammation. Exercise, a balanced diet and wearing splints or braces to support your joints are also common treatment recommendations. Surgery to replace joints may also be recommended.

For Fibromyalgia, relieving symptoms for better function and quality of life is the primary goal. Treatment usually includes over the counter pain relief products, an appropriate exercise program, coupled with a nutrition program. There are new drugs on the market being prescribed to treat Fibromyalgia that are thought to act on the neurotransmitters in the brain to reduce how pain signals are perceived. Stress reduction and relaxation techniques are also often used to help manage symptoms.

Best Health Care Providers for Arthritis & Fibromyalgia

The best doctor to consult with for either condition is a rheumatologist. A rheumatologist specializes in diagnosing and treating individuals with Arthritis and musculoskeletal diseases. Talk with your health care provider and ask for a referral to a rheumatologist. A board certified internist is also able to provide excellent care for patients with Arthritis or Fibromyalgia.

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Our blogs are educational in nature and are not intended as a substitute for medical advice. Because your condition is unique to you, it is recommended that you consult with your health care provider before attempting any medical or therapeutic treatments. We are always happy to answer questions about products mentioned in our blogs, however, we cannot provide a diagnosis or medical advice.

4 comments on “Arthritis and Fibromyalgia – What Are the Differences?

  1. Interesting read. Nobody wants to have fibromyalgia or arthritis but it’s good to know that therapy can help ease the pain from both conditions.

  2. My mom’s hands have been hurting more and more often lately and we didn’t know if it is arthritis or fibromyalgia. We honestly didn’t know there was a difference between the two. That’s good to know that fibromyalgia is a related condition to arthritis. She doesn’t seem to have any inflammation, like arthritis, so maybe she does have fibromyalgia. We will have to take her into make sure. Thanks for the information!

  3. My joints have been hurting a lot, and I think I might be suffering from arthritis. It would be nice to get help with the proper movements and exercises to reduce the pain.

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