Multiple Sclerosis vs. Fibromyalgia: Differences in Signs and Symptoms

Knowing the Difference

Multiple sclerosis (MS) and fibromyalgia are very different conditions. However, they sometimes share similar symptoms and signs. Both conditions require a variety of medical tests for a diagnosis. Before you begin any tests, you may be able to distinguish your symptoms and decide if they are signs of one of these conditions. Your doctor can help, too.

Part 2 of 7: Fibromyalgia

What Is Fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia is characterized by musculoskeletal pain that affects the entire body. In addition to chronic pain, fibromyalgia also causes increased sleep and fatigue, as well as mood and memory issues.

Medical researchers and doctors do not understand what causes fibromyalgia. However, it’s believed the condition amplifies the natural pain sensations. In other words, people with fibromyalgia appear to experience normal pain in an overly painful way.

Understand the symptoms of fibromyalgia with these helpful pictures »

Part 3 of 7: MS

What Is Multiple Sclerosis?

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a neurological condition that destroys the protective coating (myelin) around the nerves. MS causes the body to mistake the healthy myelin that surrounds the nerves as foreign. MS destroys the myelin and eventually causes the nerves to no longer be able to function as they should. Over time, MS can completely destroy the myelin. It may then begin attacking and destroying the nerves themselves.

Get the facts on MS »

Part 4 of 7: Differences

Differences in Signs and Symptoms

Although they can share symptoms, fibromyalgia causes chronic, widespread pain while multiple sclerosis causes numbness and weakness. Take a look at the other symptoms they can cause.

One symptom, more than any other, may be able to help you decide if you are experiencing the signs of either MS or fibromyalgia.

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Chronic, Widespread Pain (Fibromyalgia)

Pain is a hallmark of fibromyalgia. The pain caused by fibromyalgia is sometimes described as a dull, aching pain. To be classified as fibromyalgia, a person must experience the chronic pain for at least three months. Also, the pain must occur on both sides of the body, above and below the waist.

Or, Is It Numbness and Weakness? (MS)

MS destroys the protective coating around your nerves and eventually the nerves themselves. Once damaged, the nerves may not be able to feel or experience sensations as well as healthy nerves. The symptoms associated with MS vary depending on the amount of nerve damage and which nerves are affected. It is common for people who have MS to have significant chronic pain. You will eventually experience numbness and weakness in affected areas. Tingling and mild pain can occur, too.

Part 5 of 7: Other Symptoms

What Are Other Symptoms of Each?

Fibromyalgia Multiple Sclerosis
Memory issues Difficulty walking
Mood changes Slurred speech
Chronic fatigue Vision problems

Fibromyalgia

  • memory issues: “Fibro fog” is a term applied to the confusion, difficulty focusing and concentrating, and changes in memory that people with fibromyalgia often experience.
  • mood changes: Depression is not uncommon in people with fibromyalgia. Also, people with fibromyalgia sometimes experience mood swings.
  • chronic fatigue: Fibromyalgia causes a great deal of fatigue. People with fibromyalgia are prone to long periods of sleep and rest. Unfortunately, however, many people with fibromyalgia also have sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome.

Multiple Sclerosis

  • difficulty walking: You may develop an unsteady gait and have trouble walking. Coordination and balance will also be challenged.
  • slurred speech: As the myelin is worn away, communication from the brain may slow down. This can make speech seem more difficult, and you may have a harder time speaking clearly.
  • vision problems: Double vision and complete or total vision loss can occur. Eye pain is common, too.
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Part 6 of 7: Diagnosis

Diagnosing Fibromyalgia and MS

Diagnosing either condition can be difficult for doctors. In many cases, doctors will come to these conditions after they have ruled out other possible causes for your symptoms.

Fibromyalgia is diagnosed if your doctor can’t find any other explanation for your whole-body pain. The pain will also need to have been occurring for at least three months.

MS is not diagnosed with a single test or procedure. If other conditions are ruled out, your doctor may conduct a spinal tap. During this procedure, your doctor will remove a small sample of spinal fluid and test it for antibodies that are associated with MS. Additionally, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can detect lesions on your brain and spinal cord.

Part 7 of 7: Seeking Help

Get to the Causes

If you have unexplained symptoms similar to one of these conditions, make an appointment with your doctor. They can begin investigating your symptoms to diagnose the cause.

As with many other conditions, getting treatment as soon as possible can help your comfort and quality of life.

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