Arthritis is one of the most common bone-related diseases in the world. In the United States, statistics show that more than 50 million Americans suffer from some form of arthritis. And yet, believe it or not, this disease is still a riddle.
Fibromyalgia may not be as common arthritis (with nearly 5 million Americans suffering from it officially), but it is so much related to arthritis that it is sometimes mistakenly diagnosed as it. Mysterious too, fibromyalgia can affect one’s life to the point where daily activities are a major chore – and arthritis can do the same thing.
What is Arthritis and What Is Its Treatment?
Arthritis is a disease of the joints where they become inflamed and painful. It is believed that there are more than 100 forms of arthritis, but the most common one is osteoarthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis is quite common, as well as psoriatic arthritis, gout and septic arthritis.
The main symptom shown by people with this disease is joint pain, which can become prolonged and it is usually localized. Swelling of the joints and stiffness develops too. Furthermore, other symptoms can appear as well: malaise, poor sleeping, muscle aches, tenderness, inability to use the hand or the feet properly and so on.
The various forms of arthritis are caused by different things. For example, osteoarthritis is caused by natural wear and tear of the joints and this is why it appears later on in life. Septic arthritis can be caused by an infection in the joint. However, rheumatoid arthritis cannot be explained in the real sense of the word.
As an autoimmune disease, rheumatoid arthritis develops without any actual reason. The body’s immune cells are created when there is an infection of some sort or when there is a virus in the body that needs to be eliminated. However, in the case of an autoimmune disease, the body’s immunity cells will start attacking healthy tissues (in the case of rheumatoid arthritis, they will start attacking the joints in the various parts of the body without any kind of reason to do this).
Arthritis cannot be cured, but it can be treated. Osteoarthritis is usually prescribed with paracetamol and rheumatoid arthritis is prescribed with ibuprofen, but when these less harmful drugs cannot do their job any longer, the doctor will most likely prescribe other types of medication as well.
Furthermore, physical therapy can make the difference for arthritis patients and it can help alleviate the pain and the stiffness. Alternative therapies are used too, including acupuncture, Tai Chi, Yoga and other Eastern practices which are believed to function well against various forms of chronic pain.
A healthy lifestyle, losing weight (if necessary), and constant exercise (even if at low intensities) can change one’s life from one that is lived in pain to one that is lived normally. A lot of people with arthritis manage their condition successfully.
Fibromyalgia: Why Is It So Complicated?
If things regarding arthritis are fairly clear (except for rheumatoid arthritis), fibromyalgia complicates everything. Fibromyalgia is not a disease, but a syndrome, which means that it brings together a series of symptoms (which can sometimes be of the most diverse types). The main symptoms fibromyalgia patients show is chronic widespread pain. However, do bear in mind the fact that this is a type of pain that is not localized as in the case of arthritis.
Aside from pain, fibromyalgia brings together with it a lot of other symptoms, including headaches, sleeping issues, depression, anxiety, joint pain (and even arthritis as a co-morbid condition), bladder problems, bowels problems, swelling, stiffness, cognitive issues (known as “fibro fog” and characterized by short term memory problems, lack of concentration and so on) and many other symptoms that can be debilitating for the patients.
With such a wide range of symptoms, putting the right diagnosis seems very difficult (and, in most of the cases, it is). While arthritis can be quite easily diagnosed with specific tests, fibromyalgia is diagnosed by analyzing a series of 18 tender points, by analyzing the symptoms and by ruling out the possibility of other similar medical conditions (arthritis too). There is only one type of blood test that can spot fibromyalgia, but it is currently inaccessible for most of the people (it costs around $750 and it is not currently covered by most of the insurance companies).
Even more than that, fibromyalgia’s causes cannot be explained in any way possible. There are some theories that have been elaborated by researchers, but these theories seem to be related more to certain risk factors than to causes that could lead to fibromyalgia. Poor sleeping patterns, genetics, lack of proper functioning of the pain neurotransmitters, chemical imbalances, depression – they all seem to play an important role in how fibromyalgia develops, but nobody can tell for sure which one of these is the actual cause (or if any of them are truly causes, for that matter).
As you can see, there are some similarities between arthritis and fibromyalgia, but they are completely different in nature. They both run in the family and, at least to some extent, they are both enigmatic. Neither of them can be cured, but both of them can be treated efficiently with the use of medication, physical therapy and alternative therapies as well. However, do bear in mind the fact that the treatment given for fibromyalgia very frequently goes beyond pain medication and that many patients are prescribed FDA approved drugs to treat this condition which are very similar in nature to anti-depressants (which does not happen in the case of arthritis).
Differentiating between arthritis and fibromyalgia is important precisely for this reason. Physical therapy, exercising, home remedies and alternative medicine and practices could work for both of these conditions, but when it comes to medication fibromyalgia may need different drugs than arthritis. Make sure you are properly diagnosed and that you receive adequate treatment and you increase your chances of living a happier and more normal life!