The Great Pretender

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Fibromyalgia is defined by many symptoms including extreme widespread pain, persistent fatigue, depression, anxiety, digestive system pain and other broad pain related symptoms.  Most of these symptoms could also indicate an entirely different health problem, they are not unique in nature to Fibromyalgia. Many symptoms associated with Fibromyalgia are similar to a myriad of other health conditions, leading Fibromyalgia to gain the nickname The Great Pretender. This scenario is made even more complicated by the fact that Fibromyalgia is rarely diagnosed in isolation. Most individuals who are diagnosed with Fibromyalgia will also be diagnosed with other overlapping conditions. It is important to remember that while Fibromyalgia may appear to mimic other conditions, it is also possible that a patient may be suffering from both Fibromyalgia and other conditions.

Autoimmune Diseases

While many autoimmune diseases are relatively simple to diagnose with the proper testing, sometimes they develop slowly causing diagnostic difficulty in the earlier stages. Conditions such as systemic lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and  Sjogren’s syndrome often exhibit Fibromyalgia like symptoms. A few of these symptoms include extreme fatigue, joint pain, digestive problems, anxiety and memory loss. Because of this fact, many times patients suffering from conditions that mimic Fibromyalgia are often misdiagnosed and not given proper treatment. 

Neurological Disorders

Certain neurological disorders such as myasthenia gravis and multiple sclerosis are often diagnosed due to Fibromyalgia like symptoms. Numbness and tingling are just two of the symptoms in which your doctor may experience Fibromyalgia confusion during diagnosis. While testing can often lead to certain diagnosis, it’s not uncommon to be misdiagnosed in early stages.

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Perhaps one of the most common conditions that mimics Fibromyalgia is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS).  It is common for patients suffering from Fibromyalgia to be co-diagnosed with CFS.  Crushing fatigue, overall weakness and cognitive impairment plus the general feeling of being sleep deprived are all symptoms both illnesses share. However, CFS patients tend to have less tenderness in pressure points and cannot find relief from exhaustion through rest or sleep. CFS also is not characterized by widespread deep and persistent muscular pain as is Fibromyalgia. While it’s believed by many that Fibromyalgia is an extreme form of CFS, the two are considered distinct disorders. That said,  it is estimated that up to 80% of patients with Fibromyalgia also suffer from CFS even if they may not have a dual diagnosis. These disorders very often come together.

Osteoarthritis and Temporomandibular Joint Disorders (TMJ)

Pain is another of the most common symptoms of a Fibromyalgia diagnosis. While both can coexist in patients suffering from Fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis and TMJ are often misdiagnosed due to similar symptoms. If you’ve been diagnosed with either of these illnesses and treatment has been ineffective, discuss further testing with your doctor as Fibromyalgia may be present. It is also true that TMJ is frequently co-morbid with Fibromyalgia.

Hypothyroidism

Fatigue, lethargy, memory problems and depression are just a few of the symptoms of hypothyroidism which are similar to Fibromyalgia. While this illness can be treated with medication, its symptoms are often persistent without proper treatment. If you’ve been diagnosed and treated for hypothyroidism and aren’t feeling relief within a few months, you may have been misdiagnosed.

Depression

Since 30-65% of patients with Fibromyalgia suffer from depression, it’s no wonder so many are misdiagnosed or co-diagnosed. Similar symptoms include insomnia, difficulty concentrating and chronic pain. Because this is another illness which can coexist with a Fibromyalgia diagnosis, you’ll want to make sure you’re being evaluated for both if symptoms persist following treatment for depression.

Magnesium Deficiency

A deficiency in the mineral magnesium can lead to symptoms easily confused for Fibromyalgia including deep aching muscular pain that can be persistent. Magnesium deficiency can also contribute to fatigue, anxiety and headaches.

Chronic Headaches

Among the most bothersome of all Fibromyalgia symptoms, chronic headaches are frequent with Fibromyalgia patients. The chronic pain associated with both illnesses makes them very similar and easy to confuse. 

Restless Leg Syndrome

Sometimes triggered by pregnancy, iron deficiency and antidepressants, restless leg syndrome shares similar symptoms with Fibromyalgia and is often present in individuals diagnosed with Fibromyalgia. Lack of rest and sleep due to the incessant need to stay in motion can often lead to sleep deprivation and pain. These similarities often cause Fibromyalgia confusion.

Myofascial Pain Syndrome

 Myofascial pain syndrome is very similar to Fibromyalgia in many symptoms including chronic headaches, joint pain, sweating,  and disturbed sleep. Where the two differ is Fibromyalgia tends to exhibit widespread pain while Myofascial pain syndrome tends to effect specific localized areas and is defined by “trigger points”  or small hard knots of painful muscles. These areas include tight muscles and Fibromyalgia pain generally occurs throughout the body and include “tender points”. While the two can occur simultaneously, treatments differ and proper diagnosis is necessary.

Lyme Disease

A bacterial disease caused by ticks, Lyme disease is generally easy for professionals to diagnose. However a delayed response in treatment can produce Fibromyalgia like symptoms. There are some experts who believe misdiagnosis and confusion of these two illnesses may be between 15% and 50% of individuals diagnosed with either problem. Similar symptoms include muscle weakness, mood swings and trouble concentrating. Since prolonged use of antibiotics used in treating Lyme disease can have serious effects on those suffering from Fibromyalgia, proper diagnosis is crucial in effective treatment.

 

If you feel you may be suffering from Fibromyalgia and were misdiagnosed, discuss this with your doctor. The best way to properly treat your symptoms starts with proper Fibromyalgia diagnosis. Speak with your doctor to ensure you aren’t experiencing Fibromyalgia confusion.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Christina Dunn April 2, 2013 at 12:26 pm

I have Fibromyalgia. It developed from advanced Graves Disease. Amazingly, Fibromyalgia was the first diagnosis. I had Graves disease for 13 years before it was properly diagnosed.

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Paula Clarke April 2, 2013 at 12:27 pm

Please can you send me more info I suffer from fibro, shorgrens , arthritis and had my thyroid totally removed I also have lower bk pain xx

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