What’s the difference between Multiple Sclerosis and Fibromyalgia?

Multiple sclerosis (MS) and fibromyalgia share many of the same symptoms and are often confused. Their commonalities include fatigue, pain, sleep disturbances, bladder, bowel and cognitive problems and most importantly, an impact on the ability to cope with daily life lan messenger.

Although the common symptoms can cause a mix-up for the diagnosis of either disease, they’re actually very different. Let’s get to know these conditions. ­­

What is fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia is a rheumatic condition that involves chronic muscle pain and tenderness that affects the entire body. The exact cause for fibromyalgia hasn’t been found but researchers believe that the condition makes the experience of natural pain sensations feel more severe.

Common fibromyalgia symptoms include:

  • Dull, aching pain on both sides of the body (above and below the waist) that lasts for at least three months.
  • Memory issues, also known as “fibro fog” which involves a difficulty in focusing, confusion and difficulty in remembering things.
  • Mood swings.
  • Sleep disorders are common in people with fibromyalgia. This includes fatigue, sleep apnoea and restless leg syndrome.

What is multiple sclerosis?

MS is a condition where the protective outer coating around the nerves, called myelin, is destroyed. Some nerves are destroyed while others are damaged. The damage done to these nerves causes them to lose the ability to feel and experience sensations. MS symptoms and severity depend on the amount of nerve damage and which nerves are affected.

Common symptoms of multiple sclerosis include:

  • Struggling with coordination and balance. This makes walking difficult.
  • Damaged nerves interfere with normal neural communication within the brain. This can cause slurred speech.
  • Vision problems and eye pain.

What’s the difference?

Diagnostic processes can be difficult, but if they’re carried out correctly, it can prevent a misdiagnosis in those cases where symptoms of diseases are similar.

Diagnosing fibromyalgia

Fibromyalgia is mainly diagnosed using the Widespread Pain Index (WPI) Score and the Symptom Scale Score (SSS). The WPI ranges from 0 to 19 and is based on the number of places pain is reported to have been felt on the body. For example, pain in the abdomen, left hip, right lower leg, left lower leg and left jaw would be a score of 5. The SS score is the sum of how severe the scores are. Scores between 0 to 3 are given for symptoms like fatigue, waking up unrefreshed, cognitive symptoms and general body symptoms. These are then added up for a final score of between 0 to 12.

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Diagnosing multiple sclerosis

For a multiple sclerosis diagnosis, an MRI scan checks for lesions (parts of organ or tissues which have suffered damage like a wound or ulcer). Lesions on the brain or spinal cord usually mean MS.

Fibromyalgia treatment

Unfortunately, there is no cure-all for fibromyalgia. Treatment focuses on a lifestyle approach, and medication like antidepressants or pain medication to help treat fatigue, depression or anxiety. Your doctor will probably also recommend regular exercise or physical therapy to boost your body’s endorphins (natural painkillers). Other treatments like cognitive-behavioural therapy may also be used to help you develop a sense of self-control in how to manage the disease.

MS treatment

Disease-modifying drugs can be used in MS treatment to slow down the progression of the disease and prevent flare-ups. These drugs work by retraining the immune system so that it doesn’t damage myelin. Other treatments include exercise to help with fatigue and physiotherapy to help with spasms, stiffness and mobility problems. The pain caused by the damage to nerves may be treated with antidepressants. Emotional, thinking and memory issues can also be treated with therapy. The kind of therapy depends on the diagnosis. For anxiety or excess worry, your doctor might suggest a tranquiliser.

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