The similarities and differences between Fibromyalgia and Rheumatoid Arthritis
Fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis disability
Some of the most mysterious medical conditions have a lot of myths behind them.
Some of the most notable diseases that fall in this category are Rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia.
What do we know about their causes? Do they have a cure? Which disease is far more lethal?
To shed more light on the similarities and differences between these two almost identical disease, we are going to look at each disease in-depth.
What is fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia is a disorder that is distinguished by the widespread pain in the musculoskeletal tissue accompanied by feeling sleep, experiencing fatigue, mood swings, and memory loss.
Fibromyalgia is believed to amplify pain sensations by affecting pain signals in the brain.
Symptoms sometimes manifest after surgery, physical trauma, or psychological stress. In some cases, it accumulates over time without a trigger.
What is rheumatoid arthritis?
Rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammatory disorder that has the potential of affecting different body organs like the eyes, skin, heart, lungs and the joints.
A rheumatoid disorder which is also referred to as RA occurs when the body’s immune system attacks its body tissues by mistake.
RA affects the linings of the joints; it causes swelling that is painful which results in joint deformation and bone erosion.
Other body systems can be affected easily due to the inflammation associated with the disease.
Even though different treatment options are available, severe RA can cause physical disabilities.
Differences between fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis
RA and fibromyalgia are two different conditions that share the same symptoms which include:
- Sleep problems.
- Pain that occurs like a dull ache.
- Anxiety and feelings of depression.
While the Arthritis Foundation considers fibromyalgia as an “arthritis-related condition,” the two conditions have significant differences. Fibromyalgia and RA have different progress curves.
Fibromyalgia normally causes excruciating pain that when someone is stressed or when poor sleeping patterns are exhibited.
On the other hand, RA flares up and gets worse when treatment is not administered.
How are the symptoms different from fibromyalgia and RA?
One prime difference between fibromyalgia and RA is inflammation. Joint inflammation is one of the primary symptoms of RA.
Individuals who have RA usually have joint pains that are exhibited on both sides of the body.
For instance, in case you have a painful wrist joint on the left side of the body, it will also be experienced on the right side. The pain can last for weeks and possibly damaging the joints in the end.
Patients with fibromyalgia, on the other hand, have constant tissue and muscle pain that is widespread and can last for three months or more, without damaging the tissues and muscles.
Which is worse fibromyalgia or rheumatoid arthritis?
As we have seen above, the primary difference between the two condition is the manifestation of pain. Distinguishing them can help in selecting the most appropriate method of treatment.
Sadly, the worst case scenario is when the two conditions exist together to make treatment a much more complex process.
Fibromyalgia is the worst to diagnose because no standard test can reveal its existence.
For instance, there are no changes in organs of in blood. RA, on the other hand, is identified by joint swelling, inflammation, and damage to joints.
Additionally, fibromyalgia can exist in rheumatoid arthritis. In fact, statistics show that fibromyalgia is present in 13-17% of RA patients.
Its far much worse when a patient is suffering from both conditions than either of them, because symptoms get worse, leading to a worse quality of life that can lead to diabetes, depression and even heart disease.
Can I have both fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis?
Yes. It is common for patients who have an established form of rheumatoid arthritis to have fibromyalgia.
When doctors realize that you have a combination of both conditions, they will have to administer different therapy treatments that will counter both conditions at the same time.
Additionally, since there is no cure for both diseases, you need to work with medical professionals of both conditions to live a much more convenient lifestyle while living with both issues.
You will also need to follow each doctor’s appointments and don’t forget to live a proactive life as much as you can.
Rheumatic Arthritis and fibromyalgia connection
Healthy individuals have a defensive immune system that fights back against viruses, germs, and other invaders.
But when it comes to RA, it is an autoimmune disease that attacks healthy body tissues and the joints. This results in swelling and painful experiences in the joints.
Fibromyalgia is not an autoimmune disease even though it has similar symptoms to RA. But it causes fatigue, stiffness, and pain, even though doctors don’t know what causes it.
The inter-link between the two conditions stems from the common risk factors. The body weight, lifestyle and stress levels which may raise the chances of getting both conditions.
Additionally, inflammation is a link between the two conditions. In RA, inflammation is the main problem, even though fibromyalgia is not an inflammatory condition; Alternatively, chronic inflammation can play a role in it.
Signs and Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis vs. Fibromyalgia
Distinct symptoms of RA
- RA symptoms flare up or periodically come and go.
- Tenderness, stiffness and joint pains.
- Red joints that are swollen in your feet or hands.
- A sharp increase in intense symptoms that lasts for days or months before subsiding temporarily.
Inflammation can affect parts of the body such as:
- Mouth- infection or irritation of gums.
- Eyes – impaired vision, sensitivity to light and dry eyes.
- Skin – tiny lumps om the bone regions.
- Lungs – shortness of breath.
- Blood vessels – nerve, skin or organ damage.
- Blood – anemia.
According to Mayo Clinic, about 40% of people suffering from RA experience the same symptoms, and when they go without treatment, their joints may move out of place.
Distinct fibromyalgia symptoms
Fibromyalgia symptoms occur just like any other condition, but its pain is widespread, and it occurs in specific joints.
These points include:
- Upper back.
- Back of your head.
Additionally, you may have:
- Memory problems that are termed as fibro fog.
- A syndrome called restless leg.
- Menstrual pain.
- Sensitivity to bright lights, loud noises, and temperature.
- Tingling or numbness.
- Irritable bowel syndrome.
Fibromyalgia can be present in the muscles and joints, but it cannot damage the joints the way arthritis does.
It also does not damage body soft tissues or muscles, although it can intensify pain worse than the pain experienced in arthritis.
Is it fibromyalgia or rheumatoid arthritis?
There is no test that distinguishes RA; your doctor will have to run several tests to confirm the right diagnosis for RA. These tests include:
Medical checkup of your background history of the condition throughout your family.
Physical examination to check for swelling, pain and joint tenderness.
Antibody tests where 80% of individuals suffering from RA have the rheumatoid antibody.
Imaging tests like ultrasound to check for damaged joints or joint inflammation.
Blood tests checking for inflammation.
Treatment will be recommended once RA is confirmed by your doctor. If it is not treated, RA symptoms can lead to joint damage. Additionally, serious RA cases can cause organ failures.
It can be difficult to confirm the diagnosis of fibromyalgia. Even though concrete symptoms may be available, no tests can determine the presence of fibromyalgia.
The best ways doctors can help is to rule out other types of conditions. Currently, fibromyalgia has no known cure, but treatment options including medication and lifestyle changes are present to make significant differences in one’s life.
Is Fibromyalgia a chronic inflammatory disease?
Symptoms of fibromyalgia can mask a chronic inflammatory disease that affects the pelvis joints and the spine, according to Arthritis Care and Research study.
The study went ahead to highlight the importance of decisive management of fibromyalgia symptoms by patients and doctors, accounting for the possible presence of disorders caused by inflammation.
Fibromyalgia is totally different from other rheumatologic diseases because of it non-inflammatory in a natural way.
It has been reported to be caused by pain responses in nerves that have become hyperactive.
Individuals who are suffering from fibromyalgia can exhibit different kinds of symptoms, including morning stiffness, disturbed sleep, and chronic back pain that occurs at night.
However, symptoms also exist of axial spondyloarthritis (SpA) which is an inflammatory condition.
SpA affects the pelvis, spine and other joints. Although fibromyalgia and SpA are different diseases, they can share the same symptoms.
According to the presence of SpA in fibromyalgia patients, 99 patients suffering from fibromyalgia went through an MRI evaluation to identify the structural changes that are common in SpA chronic inflammation like sclerosis (spine deformation) and bone erosion.
The test indicated that approximately 8% of the patients showed signs of pelvic joint inflammation, while 17% and 25% showed signs of sclerosis and bone erosion.
Despite the symptom’s presence, only 10% of the patients with fibromyalgia had a positive diagnosis of SpA, according to the SpondyloArthritis International Society Assessment classification criteria.
When you clinically want to approach the tough task of differentiating between fibromyalgia and inflammatory cases, your physician, has to attempt to rely on the available diagnostic tools and clinical judgment.
Through blood tests that evaluate protein levels associated with CRP, the authors discovered that the SpA diagnosis was positively according to CRP spike levels and the limitation of physical function.
This conclusion suggests that SpA among patients with fibromyalgia can use CRP as a diagnostic tool.
This conclusion underscores the significance of identifying the overlap between centralized and inflammatory pain in patients and call for clinical vigilance differential diagnosis.
RA Treatment options
There are several drugs that treat RA. They include:
- TNF blockers like Remicade (infliximab), Enbrel (etanercept) and Humira (adalimumab).
- Common painkillers like Tylenol (acetaminophen).
- COX-2 inhibitors like Celebrex (celecoxib).
- DMARDs (Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs) like Imuran (azathioprine).
- Trexall/Rheumatrex (methotrexate) and Azulfidine (sulfasalazine).
- Glucocorticoids like methylprednisolone and prednisone.
But when it comes to severe joint damage, surgery can be an option. Even though surgery may never be required, it can be an option for patients who have permanent damage that limits their independence, mobility, and daily function.
According to Hospital for Special Surgery, Joint replacement surgery can be undertaken to restore function and relieve pain in badly damaged joints.
The process involves using plastic and metal parts to replace damaged parts. The most common replacements done are in the hip and knee.
Additionally, the following surgery options are available:
Tendon repair: joint and inflammation damage that causes tendons to loosen or rapture around our joint. The tendons may be repaired around your joint.
Synovectomy: surgery to remove the lining of the joint (inflamed synovium) can be performed in elbows, wrists, hips, finger, and knees.
Joint fusion: it involves fusing a joint to stabilize a joint when joint replacement is not a good option
Fibromyalgia treatment options
Fibromyalgia treatment includes both self-care and medication. The most important bit is the emphasis on minimizing symptoms and improving a patient’s general health.
There is no treatment that works well on its own.
Patients can reduce pain and improve their sleeping patterns using:
Pain relievers: some of the over the counter pain relievers like acetaminophen, ibuprofen (Motrin IB, Advil, and others) or naproxen sodium may help.
Your doctor might give suggestions of pain relievers like tramadol. It is not advisable for narcotics to be used because they create dependencies which may worsen the pain.
Antidepressants: Milnacipran (Savella) and Duloxetine (Cymbalta) may help to relieve pain and fatigue caused by fibromyalgia.
You may be prescribed with amitriptyline or cyclobenzaprine a muscle relaxant that promotes sleep.
Anti-seizure drugs: epilepsy medication can be used to reduce certain types of pain. Neurontin (Gabapentin) can be helpful sometimes to reduce symptoms of fibromyalgia, while Lyrica (Pregabalin) was the first drug to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration for the treatment of Fibromyalgia.
Therapy for both RA and fibromyalgia
Several therapies can be used to reduce fibromyalgia effects on your life. They include:
Physical therapy: you can be taught exercise routines like water-based exercises by your physical therapist to improve your stamina, flexibility, and strength.
Occupational therapy: Adjustment can be made in your working area with the help of your occupational therapist so that you can perform tasks that won’t cause stress on your body.
Counseling: a counselor can help you to strengthen your belief in the abilities you possess and teach you strategies on how to deal with stress levels at work and home.
How to manage fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis at home
Because of the overlap that exists between rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia, there are several home remedies that can assist patients who suffer from either of these conditions.
- Reducing stress.
- Having enough sleep.
- Regular exercises.
- Pacing yourself during tasks.
- Maintaining a healthy lifestyle by limiting caffeine, alcohol and eating well.
- Avoid smoking and have fun with your hobbies.
- Apply heat or cold packs for pain relief.
- Working with your doctor by providing more information about any changes you feel to identify the best treatment options for you.
- Respecting your limits and avoiding to put lots of pressure on oneself.
- Connecting with friends and family for emotional support.
- Enjoying the time you spend on yourself.
Additionally, you can use the following home remedies to help you counter rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia: