How to know if it’s rheumatoid arthritis or fibromyalgia

April 24, 2023 | by Mariam Khan, M.D.
Categories: Healthy Driven Life

One gets worse with time. One is more difficult to pinpoint. And they tend to appear hand-in-hand.

Rheumatoid arthritis is a painful disease. Your immune system turns against your body, attacks healthy joints and organs, and causes inflammation, pain and damage.

Fibromyalgia is a chronic disorder that includes widespread pain, stiffness and fatigue. It affects the way your brain processes pain, making it more intense.

Your risk for developing fibromyalgia increases if you’re a woman, if you already have rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis or lupus, or if someone in your family had it.

The two conditions can be present at the same time. But how can you tell whether it’s one or the other?

There are some key differences.

First, let’s look at the similarities:

  • Joint pain
  • Body stiffness
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Periodic flare-ups of symptoms

Now, the differences:

  • Rheumatoid arthritis causes visible damage to joints. Fibromyalgia does not.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis also gets progressively worse, causing swelling and sometimes deformities.
  • The pain from fibromyalgia is more widespread, while rheumatoid arthritis is concentrated initially to hands, wrists, knees and balls of the feet.

Lab testing can find evidence of rheumatoid arthritis. Lab tests cannot identify fibromyalgia.

Regardless, if you have rheumatoid arthritis or fibromyalgia, you’re likely in frequent pain.

There are some things you can do to manage your symptoms on your own:

  • Exercise. No one experiencing chronic pain feels like exercising. But being physically active is a key way to lessen your symptoms. Try low-impact activities, stretching and flexibility exercises.
  • Get better sleep. Rest is important to keep symptoms from getting worse.
  • Acupuncture may help, as well as other relaxation techniques or breathing exercises.

The rheumatologists at Edward-Elmhurst Health work closely with you and your primary care physician to relieve your pain and help you stay active. Learn more.

Pain does not have to be a constant companion in your life. Learn more about pain management at Edward-Elmhurst Health.

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