Multiple Sclerosis vs Fibromyalgia: Similar Symptoms, Different Diagnoses

Multiple Sclerosis vs Fibromyalgia: Similar Symptoms, Different Diagnoses

In 2018, there is far more awareness of chronic conditions like Multiple Sclerosis and Fibromyalgia. Many people know someone who suffers from one or the other, or has at least heard of the diseases thanks to the news cycle, popular culture, or passing conversation.

However, the mechanisms behind the diseases are not nearly as well understood. What is Multiple Sclerosis? How do you differentiate it from another condition like fibromyalgia, especially when fatigue and chronic pain are often symptoms of both diseases?

The answers have to do with the different ways the two diseases operate within the body. Though the true causes are not yet known, fibromyalgia amplifies the intensity and frequency of the pain signals that get sent to the brain. The disease essentially causes the nervous system to misfire, telling the body that it is in pain even in the absence of any external triggers.

Multiple Sclerosis, on the other hand, is an autoimmune disorder that affects the central nervous system, including the brain and the spinal column. The disease specifically attacks myelin, a protective coating that surrounds the nerves and helps with the transmission of nerve impulses. Without it, the signals between the brain and the rest of the body can be interrupted, which can lead to numbness and slow the response functions of other parts of the body.  

That degenerative component makes the disease far more debilitating over time. In the early stages, the symptoms of MS are often minor, and usually include numbness, tingling, and pain. If the disease is not treated, the damage to the nerves can cause memory loss, vision and bladder issues, and mobility impairment. The symptoms are also far more unpredictable, allowing MS to disrupt any of a number of bodily processes.

The progression of the MS can be slowed with proper medical treatment, though there is currently no cure for Multiple Sclerosis. The treatments are instead designed to mitigate the severity of symptoms and make the disease easier to manage (a trait that it shares with any treatment plan for the similarly incurable fibromyalgia).

Fortunately, neither MS nor fibromyalgia is inherently a life threatening condition. They both make life far more challenging – the pain associated with fibromyalgia can make it difficult to focus, while the degenerative nature of MS can make it difficult to do daily tasks – but modern medicine allows people with MS and fibromyalgia to maintain a high standard of living while going through treatment.

Those long term prospects are important to keep in mind when battling fibromyalgia or MS. It is possible to overcome the physical and cognitive impairment that goes along with each disease, so make sure you speak to your doctor to find a treatment plan that works for you!

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