An estimated 1.5 percent of the adult population is affected by fibromyalgia in Canada. Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) affects approximately 1.4 percent of Canadian adults.
Both disorders share similar symptoms. Most experts agree that these two conditions are probably related; however, some believe they may actually be the same illness.
Similarities and Differences
For both fibromyalgia and CFS, pain and fatigue are the hallmark symptoms.
Muscle pain is the most prominent feature of fibromyalgia. In fact, the diagnosis of fibromyalgia is based on patient reports of tenderness or pain in at least 11 out of 18 defined spots on the body.
Other symptoms include feeling tired and weak.
Fatigue is the predominant symptom of CFS – an overwhelming lack of energy that can be debilitating. Those diagnosed with CFS typically experience long-term fatigue, classified as a period of six months or more. Other symptoms of CFS include:
- Muscle and/or joint pain
- Swollen or tender lymph nodes
- ore throat
- Other signs of inflammation or illness
Other signs and symptoms that are common to both fibromyalgia and CFS include:
- Difficulty sleeping
- Memory and/or concentration impairments
- Digestive symptoms such as diarrhea, constipation, or bloating
- Depression or anxiety
Who is Affected?
Both CFS and fibromyalgia are more common among women than men. Adults over the age of 40 are most likely to be affected.
Risk factors for fibromyalgia include:
- genetics (family history of fibromyalgia)
- conditions such as osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, or lupus
- physical or emotional trauma
Factors that may cause CFS include:
- past viral infections
- immune system problems
- hormonal imbalances
Diagnosis & What to Expect at Your Appointment
Making an appointment with your family doctor is the first step in addressing fibromyalgia or CFS.
Your doctor will likely ask you about your medical history and symptoms and may perform a physical examination.
A physical examination can be used to identify the presence of sore or tender spots, which are often used to diagnose fibromyalgia. Pain caused by fibromyalgia is typically widespread, meaning that the pain is present on both sides of the body.
Chronic fatigue syndrome is more difficult to diagnose. It is identified as extreme fatigue that has lasted for six months or more, and which can’t be explained by any underlying medical condition.
The fatigue tends to worsen with activity and doesn’t improve with rest.
Because fatigue can be a symptom of many illnesses, your doctor may conduct tests to rule out sleep disorders and other medical problems that might be causing fatigue.
Given the similarities between fibromyalgia and CFS, some of the most common therapeutic treatments are the same. These include:
- Getting enough sleep.
Symptoms of both fibromyalgia and CFS include disrupted sleep patterns. Maintaining healthy sleep habits and avoiding caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco can help to improve sleep quality.
- Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
CBT is a therapeutic technique that can help people who suffer from either disorder to recognize their symptoms and develop coping strategies.
Common coping strategies include rest, relaxation therapy, and therapies that help manage the mental effects of ongoing pain or fatigue.
Treatments differ between the two conditions in some key areas. For example, aerobic exercise has been found to be beneficial to people suffering from fibromyalgia.
Among people with CFS, moderate exercise is recommended, since intense exercise can cause symptoms to worsen.
People suffering from CFS who have pain can be treated with over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen or aspirin.
On the other hand, these drugs are ineffective for treating pain caused by fibromyalgia. Antidepressants have been shown to offer pain relief to people with fibromyalgia.
7 Tips for Managing Pain and Fatigue
- Assess symptoms on a day-to-day basis.
People with fibromyalgia and CFS experience varying levels of pain and fatigue, including periods of remission. Assess your condition each morning, and try to adjust your plans accordingly.
When you don’t sleep well, engage in less activity. When you feel well-rested and pain is tolerable, do more. Moderation is key.
- Get regular exercise.
When you’re tired or in pain, moving might be the last thing you feel like doing.
However, regular, moderate exercise can contribute toward alleviating pain symptoms, reducing stress, and helping with sleep. Pace yourself, based on how you are feeling each day.
We have an article dedicated to how to exercise with chronic pain for those who are unsure of what to do.
- Use massage to treat pain.
Massage is a proven way to reduce stress and muscle pain. It can be used to improve range of motion and treat depression and anxiety.
- Apply heat.
Heat boosts blood flow and can help to relieve stiff and sore muscles. Apply a warm, moist washcloth; have a hot shower, or soak in the bathtub.
You can also treat deep muscle pain caused by fibromyalgia with an ice pack.
- Try alternative therapies.
Some people find that alternative therapies, such as acupuncture, can help with fatigue and pain, but studies show mixed results.
To find out more about alternative therapies, speak to a healthcare practitioner.
- Prioritize sleep.
Both fibromyalgia and CFS can make sleep difficult. Going to bed and waking up at the same time each day—and avoiding naps—can help.
Some people find that having a relaxing bedtime routine can make falling asleep easier. This could include taking a warm bath or reading before bedtime.
- Say no to excessive engagements.
Learning how to say no is important in minimizing stress, coping with fatigue, and dealing with pain.
Living with CFS or fibromyalgia means accepting that you might not be able to accept every social invitation. Similarly, you might not be able to take on extra responsibilities at work.
The information in this article should not be taken as professional medical advice. If you are having issues or have health-related concerns, you should see your personal physician.