What Is The Difference Between Fibromyalgia And Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

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So what exactly is the difference between Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?

The difficulty in distinguishing CFS from fibromyalgia is sometimes complicated by the fact that some people alternate between both medical conditions. As a result, the physician may find it hard to diagnose each individual medical problem. In addition, CFS is a diagnosis that doesn’t exclude other diseases. Although there is no specific laboratory or imaging tests for CFS, your doctor will generally order an erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) blood test, a non-specific test for inflammation also used to detect the presence of rheumatoid arthritis, Lyme disease, and other diseases.

In general, if pain is the main complaint and the patient has other symptoms common to fibromyalgia, such as tender points (specific areas of the body that are sore), the medical problem is probably fibromyalgia.

In contrast, if the patient’s key complaint is extreme fatigue, followed by other symptoms, such as pain and sleep difficulties, CFS is more likely to be diagnosed as the prevailing problem.

Because these two symptoms are more frequently confused than other medical problems, we can compare key symptoms on the chart below.

Comparing Fibromyalgia with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Symptom/Finding
Fibromyalgia
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
Pain
Fatigue
Muscle Pain
High spinal-fluid levels of Substance P
Physical brain changes
Abnormal growth-hormone levels
Difficulty concentrating
Chronic or frequent sore throat
Problems with short-term memory
Tender lymph nodes
Chronic low-grade fever
Weight gain
Chronic headaches
Primary symptom
Secondary symptom
Yes
Yes*
.
No
Yes, in some patients
.
Yes
No
.
Yes
.
No
No
Yes
Yes
Secondary symptom
Primary symptom
Yes
No
.
Maybe **
No
.
Yes
Yes
.
Yes
.
Yes
Yes
Yes
Yes

* Substance P = A neurochemical whose levels have been shown to be three times higher in the spinal fluid of patients with fibromyalgia compared to pain free individuals.
** Cortical white matter lesions = Read more here.