What is the difference between Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?

There are wide differences of opinions on the two conditions, even among medical experts. Most would agree that fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) are similar, and probably related disorders. One faction in the fibromyalgia/CFS debate believes that these are simply two different names for the same thing, while others say they are completely different.

My opinion is that the conditions are similar and probably related. Pain, fatigue and a host of other problems are seen in fibromyalgia, CFS displays similar symptoms. However, a practical way to differentiate the disorders is that pain is the predominant problem in people with fibromyalgia whereas fatigue is the major complaint in people with CFS.

The pain of fibromyalgia is typically chronic and widespread, and is often associated with stiffness. On examination, many people have specific sites (called tender points) that are extremely tender to touch. The detection of these tender points is helpful with the diagnosis of fibromyalgia.

The fatigue seen in people with CFS is generally profound and can be completely incapacitating. Criteria for CFS are usually fatigue that has been present for more than 3-6 months and is accompanied by the following:

  • a sore throat
  • enlarged or tender lymph nodes
  • muscle or joint pain
  • other signs of systemic illness

Signs and symptoms that are commonly present in both fibromyalgia and CFS include the following:

  • sleep disturbances
  • headaches
  • impaired memory or concentration
  • dizziness
  • bowel complaints (such as bloating, diarrhea and/or constipation)
  • anxiety or depression

Most people with fibromyalgia or CFS fall into one of four groups:

  • Those who manage to return to completely normal health, even though this may take a considerable period of time. The percentage falling into this category is fairly small.
  • The majority, who tend to follow a fluctuating pattern with both good and bad periods of health. Relapses or exacerbations are often precipitated by infections, operations, temperature extremes or stressful events, commonly known as flares.
  • A significant minority who remain severely affected and may require a great deal of practical and social support.
  • A few, who show continued deterioration, which is unusual in CFS and is linked more to fibromyalgia and when this occurs  a detailed medical report is advisable to rule out any other possible diagnosis.

Here at M.C.C. we aim to help support the Fibromyalgia/CFS community manage their symptoms with our wide range of products and recognise that social media can play an important role as many people with these conditions find it a lifeline to stay in contact with the outside world and communicate with others that have the conditions too. We have our own support group in Facebook called Fibromyalgia and Product Support by M.C.C.  run by an admin team that all have these conditions and that offer a place of support, advice, life hacks and friendship.

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