What Is The Difference Between Chronic Fatigue Syndrome And Fibromyalgia?

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How Do Doctors Tell The Difference Between CFS And Fibromyalgia?

Although they share a lot of symptoms, chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) and fibromyalgia are not the same illness. Yet it is thought that up to 70 percent of CFS patients also have fibromyalgia. CFS is also known as chronic fatigue and affects up to 1 million people in the United States (many of whom are undiagnosed). The main symptom of the condition is an over-whelming exhaustion that goes way beyond the tiredness that most people feel at the end of a busy day. People with CFS feel completely drained, even if they haven't done anything. By contrast, people with fibromyalgia put fatigue down their list of 'worst' symptoms. Instead they say pain is their worst symptom, specifically pain located in the fibro tender points. People with CFS on the other hand report other problems such frequent headaches and bouts of constipation and diarrhea related to irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). However fibro-patients can have these problems too, so the presence of these symptoms can make a diagnosis more difficult.

Comparing The Symptoms

This table helps to compare fibromyalgia symptoms with CFS symptoms:

Symptom Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Fibromyalgia
Pain Secondary symptom Primary symptom
Fatigue Primary symptom Secondary symptom
Primarily affects women Yes Yes
Frequent sore throat Yes No
Tender lymph nodes Yes No
Frequent bad headaches Yes Yes
Short-term memory loss Yes Yes (fibro-fog)
Chronic low grade fever Yes No
IBS Symptoms Yes Yes
Hypotension (low blood pressure), can lead to fainting Yes No
Weight Gain Yes Yes

CFS can resemble other illnesses, not just fibromyalgia. For example it can be confused with sleep disorders, major depression, severe obesity, lupus, Lyme disease and multiple sclerosis. For this reason it is important not to self-diagnose. It is not uncommon for people to assume they have CFS when they in fact have another condition which needs treatment. Like a fibromyalgia diagnosis, a CFS diagnosis will only be made once the other potential causes have been ruled out. The percentage of patients with CFS who make a full recovery is not known. But there is some evidence to suggest that the sooner it is treated, the better the chance of managing it. CFS is not considered curable. See also, can fibromyalgia be cured?

Related Questions
What are the symptoms of fibromyalgia? Take our quiz to check for other signs.
Is fibromyalgia genetic?: Is it possible for a person to inherit the disease?
• Not to confuse symptoms with arthritis: What is the difference between fibromyalgia and arthritis?
Do I have a cold or the flu?: Check your symptoms.
• Exercise-tips for reducing fibro pain: What are the best exercises for fibromyalgia?

• Need more information? See: Fibromyalgia Guidelines
• Got another question? See: Womens Health Questions

Back to Homepage: Womens Health Advice

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