What's the Difference?
Some doctors treat fibromyalgia (FMS) or chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS or ME/CFS) separately, while others think they are actually the same thing –- or at least, variations of the same condition. According to the Arthritis Foundation, research shows that 50 to 70 percent of people with one diagnosis also fit the criteria for the other.
FMS and ME/CFS are known to have a host of symptoms in common. They include:
- Unrefreshing sleep
- Irritable bowel syndrome symptoms
- Chronic headaches
- Association with Temporomandibular Joint Syndrome (TMJ)
- Cognitive or memory impairment
- Impaired coordination
One key difference, when it comes to a diagnosis, is which symptom is worst – pain or fatigue. The diagnosis could also be influenced by whether your doctor is more familiar with the American College of Rheumatology's criteria for FMS or the CDC's guidelines for ME/CFS.
However, experts have found some significant differences. Many cases of ME/CFS begin after flu-like symptoms and may be linked to a virus. ME/CFS patients often show chronic immune system activation, as if their bodies are fighting an infection, while FMS patients do not. Also, ME/CFS diagnostic criteria include low-grade fever and sore throat, while FMS criteria do not. Meanwhile, the onset of FMS frequently is traced to a physical or emotional trauma. The pain of FMS gets better with heat and gentle massage, while the pain of ME/CFS does not.
Why it Matters
In the end, does it really matter which one you're diagnosed with? Some say it doesn't, because treatment focuses on alleviating symptoms, and many of the suggested treatment regimens (i.e., antidepressants, pain medications, lifestyle changes) are the same or similar.
The best course of action is to talk to your doctor about both conditions and make sure you've done all you can to solidify your diagnosis.
Arthritis Foundation "Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia"