Polymyalgia vs. Fibromylagia: What’s the Difference?
Knowing Your “-algias”
You’re feeling muscle pain, stiffness, and fatigue. What condition might you have? While only your doctor can provide a diagnosis, it can help to understand the differences between two health conditions with similar symptoms: polymyalgia rheumatica and fibromyalgia.
Knowing something about the symptoms, causes, and treatments for these similar inflammatory disorders will help you be better prepared to talk to your doctor about what you’re experiencing.
Click through the slideshow to find out how to distinguish these disorders.
Polymyalgia and fibromyalgia are inflammatory conditions with symptoms that may be hard to tell apart. When you have polymyalgia, you feel pain and stiffness in the muscles in your shoulders, arms, hips, and neck. This feeling often comes after you’ve spent time resting.
Fibromyalgia can also cause muscle pain and stiffness in the same parts of the body. Yet, people with fibromyalgia tend to experience other symptoms as well, including:
- trouble sleeping
- memory problems
Who Gets What?
It’s not always easy to tell who has a greater chance of developing each condition. However, certain risk factors provide some clues. According to the Mayo Clinic, seniors are more likely to be diagnosed with polymyalgia. It’s rare in people under 50 and those it affects are usually over age 65.
On the other hand, anyone can get fibromyalgia. However, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), it’s more common in women than in men.
Causes for Concern
Both polymyalgia and fibromyalgia can run in families. In other words, having certain genes can increase your risk for developing either disease. However, according to the Mayo Clinic, polymyalgia is more frequently diagnosed in certain seasons. This suggests that something in the environment—such as a virus—might play a role.
Some illnesses and infections such as rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune disorders can cause fibromyalgia—as can post-traumatic stress disorder and other emotional or physical traumas.
How can you tell if you have an inflammatory disorder and which one you have? Your doctor may want to conduct a number of tests to make a diagnosis of polymyalgia rheumatic, including:
- blood tests
- imaging tests such as MRI or ultrasound
- monitoring for a condition called giant cell arteritis
However, confirming a diagnosis of fibromyalgia can be more difficult. No lab test exists that can accurately confirm a diagnosis. Your doctor may try to first rule out conditions with similar symptoms through blood tests.
Because polymyalgia is primarily a physical condition based on pain and stiffness, first-line treatment usually involves corticosteroids like prednisone to relieve symptoms.
Fibromyalgia treatments may take a combination approach to fighting fatigue as well as pain. Your doctor may recommend over-the-counter options like Tylenol or ibuprofen, or may suggest an antidepressant to help with sleep problems.
Doing Something About It
Medicines may be one option that your doctor suggests to combat the discomfort of polymyalgia and fibromyalgia, but they’re not the only thing that can help. A low-fat diet and regular exercise can make a big difference in preventing and soothing symptoms for both conditions.
If you have polymyalgia, you can also take steps to make your daily tasks go more smoothly. For example, use rolling suitcases when you travel and avoid wearing high heels to prevent falls. Fibromyalgia sufferers can feel better by practicing good sleep habits and pacing their activities to avoid overdoing it.
Using Your Knowledge
Experiencing the symptoms of either polymyalgia or fibromyalgia can be challenging and frustrating. Polymyalgia patients may have to contend with daily medication to ease their pain and stiffness. In addition to dealing with pain and fatigue, fibromyalgia patients may have to handle feeling misunderstood by others—even those in the healthcare community.
Use what you know about your condition to seek support from family, friends, co-workers, and your doctor. Taking steps to manage your specific symptoms can bring a feeling of control as well as relief.