Fibromyalgia Diagnosis And Rheumatoid Arthritis Diagnosis
Fibromyalgia And Rheumatoid Arthritis - Commonalities and Differences
In a previous blogpost I've discussed in details Fibromyalgia, how is it diagnosed and can CBD help with Fibromyalgia, but now, let's discuss some commonalities and differences between Fibromyalgia and Rheumatoid Arthritis.
In recent years, finally, fibromyalgia is getting the respect it deserves. After years and years of doctors telling patients that complain about extreme fatigue, and chronic pain of muscles and joints, it’s all in their heads. At best, they’ll prescribe some anti-depressant and send the patient home.
These symptoms sound exactly like the symptoms people with Rheumatoid Arthritis suffer from. So, what is the difference and how can your doctor tell if you have Rheumatoid Arthritis or fibromyalgia? Well, it’s true that both conditions share some main symptoms, however, there are some very specific symptoms that are unique to Rheumatoid Arthritis, and the same for fibromyalgia.
What symptoms are associated with both Rheumatoid Arthritis and fibromyalgia
When answering this question, I talked to a few fibromyalgia patients and compared it with the symptoms I experienced when my Rheumatoid Arthritis was very much active quite a few years ago.
- Sleep disruptions or insomnia
- Constant fatigue
- Chronic pain
- Mood swings (depression, anxiety, etc.)
- Sleep disruptions, insomnia, and fatigue
To put it simply, people with both Rheumatoid Arthritis as well as with fibromyalgia most often are sleep deprived. And the reason is obvious – imagine trying to fall asleep or stay asleep when your entire body or some joints are in extreme pain. It’s painful to lay down, it’s painful to be at rest, it’s painful to turn around and change sleeping position, it’s all just painful.
It’s a vicious cycle - Rheumatoid Arthritis pain fuels sleep deprivation, and, in turn, sleep deprivation fuels Rheumatoid Arthritis pain. One theory says that sleep deprivation can increase general stress, and stress, is well known to be among the major triggers of inflammation and flare-ups.
Additionally, deep sleep is critical for the natural healing of the body, namely, microscopic tears that occur in our muscles throughout the day. Without proper sleep, this healing process is interfered and the result – you guessed it – sore muscles.
Some research conducted indicated that (especially women) with fibromyalgia reported experiencing greater fatigue throughout the day vs. similar population with Rheumatoid Arthritis who reported more of a sleepiness feeling. Fatigue is considered more severe than just being sleepy since it implies constant tiredness and lack of energy.
I, for one, can attest that my Rheumatoid Arthritis definitely involves fatigue. To give you a real-life example, it’s not rare for me to need to look for a safe place to stop and rest while I’m driving. It’s the kind of tiredness that healthy people would probably feel after an action-packed day when they’d need to drive a few hours back.
Some researchers hypothesize that fibromyalgia causes fatigue since that’s how our body reacts to long-lasting pain. Our nerves are being signaled by our body in such a way that can make us feel exhausted. Since in fibromyalgia pain is systemic, these signals are sent from all over the body vs. Rheumatoid Arthritis where these signals are localized in joints.
Chronic pain or widespread pain, pain is pain
Pain. Probably the most associated feeling with so many conditions. After all, pain informs us when something is wrong, and its location can hint at the cause.
In Rheumatoid Arthritis, pain can occur in any joint in the body, and in fibromyalgia, pain can occur not only in joints but also in muscles and tissues.
But the main difference between Rheumatoid Arthritis pain vs. fibromyalgia pain is its origin. In Rheumatoid Arthritis, pain originates from joint inflammation and will, most often, attack in a symmetric manner – right wrist and left wrist, right shoulder and left shoulder, etc.
In fibromyalgia, on the other hand, pain, most often, will start in the shoulders, back, or neck, and along time will make its way to other parts of the body. But the bigger differentiator is non-joint-related pain. Mostly we are talking about migraines and abdomen pain.
Anxiety and depression
Anxiety and depression have never been so popular. Either no one was willing to admit it back in the days, or modern times have a very negative effect on us humans. Anyway. Depression and anxiety are almost always a ‘side effect’ of a variety of medical conditions, especially, chronic conditions like Rheumatoid Arthritis and Fibromyalgia that last for life.
Depression is defined, among others, as Feelings of hopelessness, or pessimism, Loss of interest or pleasure in hobbies and activities, Decreased energy or fatigue, and more and more. Well, what can I tell you – can you blame anyone who’s constantly under intense pain and fatigue for being bitter?! I doubt that.
Anyway, the severity of the condition, obviously, directly affects the level of depression and anxiety. The more severe the condition is, the higher the severity of depression is experienced. And science has, a long time ago, correlated depression and increased risk of Rheumatoid Arthritis. Researchers believe the increased levels of inflammation-causing cytokines like those found in RA patients, increase the risk of depression.
What symptoms differentiate Rheumatoid Arthritis from Fibromyalgia?
We’ve already discussed the similarities between Rheumatoid Arthritis and Fibromyalgia, but now, let’s point out the differentiators between the two.
Rheumatoid Arthritis symptoms:
- Morning joint stiffness
- Red and swollen tender joints
- Specific biomarkers deviate from normal levels
- Extreme temperature sensitivity
- Brain fog (memory problems)
- Digestive issues
- Migraines and Headaches
- Numbness or tingling in hands and feet
But regardless of all the above, symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis and Fibromyalgia vary, and no two people are alike. Science defines Rheumatoid Arthritis as an autoimmune condition but categorizes Fibromyalgia as a neurological condition. I really don’t have any answers here, but I can just recommend being on top of your condition and doing all the tests needed for a proper diagnosis.
What are the root causes of Rheumatoid Arthritis and Fibromyalgia?
As mentioned, Rheumatoid Arthritis is an autoimmune condition. In general, with autoimmune conditions, one’s immune system is somewhat confused and will attack various parts of the body as it recognizes healthy cells as foreign invaders. It could be Crohn’s or Colitis where parts of the intestine are attacked, or like with Rheumatoid Arthritis, one’s joints are constantly attacked. The outcome is that the lining of the joint becomes inflamed, which in turn, causes damage to the joint tissue.
What causes Rheumatoid Arthritis then? Good question, but the answer is unknown. Some speculate about factors that may affect one’s chances to get Rheumatoid Arthritis, like lifestyle and environmental factors, hormonal composition, and, what I believe to be the major factor, genetics. I often hear from patients how their grandmother and mother had Rheumatoid Arthritis, and, for them, it was not a question of if, but when will Rheumatoid Arthritis catch them.
Unlike Rheumatoid Arthritis, Fibromyalgia is categorized as a neurological condition and does not cause inflammation and joint damage. It is believed that the central nervous system in this condition is oversensitive and intensifies one’s perception of pain, but not only pain. An individual with Fibromyalgia might also be oversensitive to light, heat, pressure, and more.
Just like with RA, the causes of Fibromyalgia are a mystery, but there are also speculations here. Among those are:
- Some traumatic life event
- Chronic conditions
I’ve already discussed in previous blogs about Rheumatoid Arthritis diagnosis and about the diagnosis of Fibromyalgia. But in general, Rheumatoid Arthritis diagnosis involves various types of bloodwork (Namely Rheumatoid factor, anti-CCP, sedimentation rate, and more). Clinical symptoms and pain patterns are also indicative of the condition.
Unlike Rheumatoid Arthritis, there are no blood tests that can be indicative of the existence of Fibromyalgia. The diagnosis of the condition is mostly done by eliminating other conditions, like Rheumatoid Arthritis and more.
How are Fibromyalgia and Rheumatoid Arthritis treated?
The medications that are meant to treat Rheumatoid Arthritis are divided into three groups:
- The first, Disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs). These medications will mainly work to suppress the immune system, thus reducing inflammation.
- The second is biological medications. These are more like GPS-guided missiles and will target the creation of specific proteins within our cells that take part in the creation of inflammation.
- Last, is steroids (or Corticosteroids). These treat the symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis and not the disease itself. Steroids will weaken the immune system, therefore reducing inflammation. Steroids are real lifesavers, but their long-term risks and side effects can be severe on our bodies.
The medications that are meant to treat Fibromyalgia are also divided into three groups:
- The first, Antidepressants. These will help cope with the intense fatigue and general depression
- Anti-epilepsy medications. These have proven helpful in alleviating Fibromyalgia symptoms by inhibiting pain signals and therefore reducing the feeling of pain caused by the condition
- Last, muscle relaxants. These have been shown to help people with fibromyalgia sleep better and experience less pain.
Of course, there are many other ways to holistically treat Fibromyalgia and Rheumatoid Arthritis, some might be more helpful to some than to others. Personally, alternative approaches to conventional treatments did not work, and the only real natural solution that helped me manage my Rheumatoid Arthritis and related inflammation is my oil - Broad Spectrum CBD-rich hemp oil and there's a whole story behind it of how my CBD oil allowed me to go off steroids after 23 years straight. But, my customers who suffer from Fibromyalgia reported that our Broad Spectrum CBD-rich hemp oil help dramatically reduce pain levels and allowed them much better sleep at nights, truly improving their total quality of life.
Other common alternative approached to treating fibromyalgia and Rheumatoid Arthritis include physiotherapy, changing nutrition, stress reduction, mindfulness, acupuncture, and more. From my experience, the effectiveness of those is very individual. No two patients are alike.