You may have seen some conflicting information regarding fibromyalgia and autoimmune diseases. Some people will tell you it is considered to be an autoimmune disease, others will tell you it’s not. However, you must know that physicians do not consider fibromyalgia to be an autoimmune disease.
The cause of this debilitating disease is not known and individuals who have other diseases could be much more likely to be affected with it. Diseases that make an individual more susceptible to fibromyalgia are: ankylosing spondylitis, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis. Typically, the symptoms of fibromyalgia are the same as those in some of these autoimmune diseases, which makes diagnosing much more difficult.
Why is Fibromyalgia not Considered an Autoimmune Disease?
At this point in time, fibromyalgia is not considered to be an autoimmune disease. Further research could change this, but that doesn’t seem likely right now. Though some cases of fibromyalgia do involve a dysregulation of the immune system itself, this is much different than the dysregulation caused by an autoimmune disease. Right now, researchers have been unable to totally understand the nature of the dysregulation caused by fibromyalgia.
Autoimmune Diseases Explained
As mentioned before, autoimmune diseases include ankylosing spondylitis, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and others. Nowhere in this list will you find fibromyalgia autoimmune disease. So, though fibromyalgia does exhibit the symptoms of an autoimmune disease/disorder, it is not considered to be one.
What are the Symptoms of an Autoimmune Disease?
There are many symptoms of an autoimmune disease- many of which are the same or almost the same in those who have fibromyalgia. Following are some of the symptoms that occur with autoimmune diseases that could also point to fibromyalgia.
- Extreme Fatigue- this is the level of fatigue that is not helped by getting some rest.
- Joint and Muscle Pain- this can be a range of pain, from general pain, to burning, to aching, general soreness in the muscles and aches/pains in the joints.
- Muscle Weakness- weak feeling in the muscles, as well as loss of hand/arm or leg/thigh strength.
- Swollen Glands- especially those in the throat, under the arms, and the tops of the legs around the groin.
Greater Susceptibility to Infections- frequent bladder infections, colds, ear infections, yeast infections, sore throat and sinus problems are very common among both fibromyalgia patients and those patients with autoimmune disorders. Additionally, you will experience a much slower recovery time if you have an autoimmune disorder.
- Sleep Disturbances- problems with falling/staying asleep.
- Weight Gain/Loss- changes in weight, usually in a 10 to 15 pound range.
- Low Blood Sugar- this points to adrenal fatigue.
- Changes in Blood Pressure- you may have very high or very low blood pressure, in combination with feelings of vertigo or dizziness, palpitations/fluctuations in heart rate, and/or fainting.
- Candida Yeast Infections- this includes sinus infections, digestive problems, thrush, or even vaginal yeast infections.
- Allergies- allergic/sensitive to certain chemicals, foods, and things in the environment.
- Digestive Problems- this includes heartburn, constipation, cramping, bloating, pain in the abdomen, excessive gas, and even diarrhea is quite common.
- Depression/Anxiety- changes in both mood and emotions, excessively irritable, and even panic attacks.
- Memory Problems- this often manifests as what is called “brain fog” where you can only vaguely remember things.
- Thyroid Problems- typically, the problem is hypothyroidism, though sometimes can be hyperthyroidism, and typically does not show up on a thyroid test. This can manifest itself as excessive hair loss and a lowered body temperature.
- Headaches that keep occurring- this can be severe headaches or migraines.
- Low Grade Fevers- quite common, some experience this every single day.
- PMS- bloating, heavy bleeding, extreme cramps and an irregular cycle are quite common with both fibromyalgia and an autoimmune disease.
Common Fibromyalgia Symptoms
– Pain All Over the Body- this is aching, throbbing, stabbing/shooting, burning pain deep within the muscles.
– Fatigue- feeling completely drained of energy (can be one of the most debilitating of the symptoms).
– Difficulty Sleeping- this includes both falling and staying asleep. You will not be getting adequate sleep, so you feel quite deprived of sleep upon getting up.
– Brain Fog- problems with focusing/concentrating on things, retaining information recently learned, etc.
– Stiffness Upon Waking in the Mornings- muscles feel more sore in the early mornings and individuals feel more stiff than they usually are. Typically, gently stretching your muscles and taking a warm shower/bath helps to loosen them up.
– Knotting, Cramping, Weakness in Muscles- no matter how much you do to relax the muscles, they still feel very tense. The pain that is caused by fibromyalgia itself could be a source of muscle weakness.
– Digestive Disorders- abdominal pain, bloating, constipation, nausea, diarrhea, gas, IBS, and more are very common with fibromyalgia. Also, slow digestion and acid reflux are common.
– Migraines/Headaches- these are typically present at least twice per week and are rated as severe pain- usually with a migraine component. The pain is partially due to trigger points located in the head, neck, and shoulders.
– Problems with Balance- typically, individuals afflicted with fibromyalgia have trouble walking and their odds of falling down are increased.
– Burning/Itching Skin- you may have itchy/red bumps or your skin may be completely clear and it burns like when you have been sunburned.
Compare Fibromyalgia and Autoimmunity
Though some of the symptoms are quite similar- and even exactly the same in some cases- the research into fibromyalgia has not found a link to autoimmunity. There have been no inflammatory markers that have been elevated consistently, there have been no antibodies discovered, and researchers have not observed the damage that is typical of autoimmune activity within the body.
However, there has been a significant overlap that has been observed between specific autoimmune conditions and fibromyalgia that shows the possibility that those who have autoimmunity are susceptible to developing fibromyalgia. These are:
- Rheumatoid Arthritis
- Hashimoto’s Autoimmune Thyroiditis
Why Do People Get Confused?
The fact that people misunderstand the meaning of ‘autoimmunity’ greatly contributes to the misunderstanding between the two. Additionally, it could be to the similarities between the two.
For example: both fibromyalgia and autoimmune disorders have fatigue, pain, and several other very common symptoms; both fibromyalgia and autoimmune disorders can be quite difficult to diagnose and can take a long time to sort out; a common poor understanding of the two- even those in the medical community don’t always understand fibromyalgia and auto immune disorders, so they lump them all together because on the surface, they appear the same.
However, you must understand the difference between the two because though they appear to be the same, the treatments are very different. You don’t want to be treated for one if you have the other- the treatment would not be successful.