The Common Threads of Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

By Dennis Thompson, Jr

Fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) are both illnesses characterized by extreme amounts of fatigue. In fact, the conditions seem to be so intertwined that the medical community continues to debate whether fibromyalgia fatigue is simply a different expression of the same disorder that causes CFS.

Statistically, fibromyalgia fatigue occurs in more Americans than chronic fatigue syndrome. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention believes there are about 5 million people in the United States with fibromyalgia, compared with a little over 1 million people with chronic fatigue syndrome.

Still, research has found that the line between fibromyalgia fatigue and chronic fatigue syndrome is a very thin one. The Arthritis Foundation estimates that 50 to 70 percent of people with fibromyalgia also fit the criteria of chronic fatigue syndrome.

Does this mean that some people could be suffering from both conditions? Possibly, but it would be difficult for most physicians to diagnose this with certainty. Nonetheless, there are important differences in the ways fibromyalgia fatigue and chronic fatigue syndrome present themselves. The recommended treatments for each syndrome also feature some notable differences.

Research into each disease grew out of different medical fields. Fibromyalgia researchers are primarily rheumatologists and arthritis experts. Chronic fatigue syndrome researchers most often are immunologists and virus experts. Because of this, fibromyalgia has been thought of as a muscle disorder while chronic fatigue syndrome has been linked to viral infections — despite their similarities.

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Chronic pain and fatigue are common symptoms of both fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome. The difference is that, in fibromyalgia, fatigue often takes a backseat to debilitating muscle pain. In chronic fatigue syndrome, people have an overwhelming lack of energy, but also can experience some pain.

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