Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and Fibromyalgia are two chronic health conditions. While they do share some similar symptoms they are very different conditions. Both are very difficult to diagnose and patients can go on for years knowing something is wrong without having their condition diagnosed. There are also some similarities in treatment options for both, however since they have different causes the treatment strategies must take different approaches. Below is some basic information to differentiate the two conditions.
While medicine in the 19th century was not as established as it is today recordings and drawings done in the early 1800's reveal patients that had what we now know as MS. The disease was first given a name in 1869 by Jean-Martin Charcot a professor of neurology. Unfortunately little was known about the cause and therefore treatments were not very effective. During the mid 1900's more was learned about what was causing this condition and at this time the National MS Society was formed. By the end of the 1900's with advances in research, scientists continued to narrow down what was causing the symptoms and began to develop more effective treatments. However, even today there is still much we do not know about this condition. Fibromyagia is a more recently diagnosed condition. It has only been within the last ten years or so that the condition has been recognized by physicians. Yet, descriptions of what we now call Fibromyalgia were recorded as early as the 17th century. It was not until 1987 that the American Medical Association recognized it as a true illness that causes disability. However even today there are still physicians that dismiss Fibromyalgia as a real condition. The main reason why is because Fibromyalgia can not be detected with standard medical tests such as x-rays and blood work.
Multiple Sclerosis is a chronic medical condition that attacks the central nervous system. The disease occurs as the body attacks its own myelin. Myelin is a fatty substance that surrounds and protects the nerve fibers and can even damage the fibers themselves. The damaged to the myelin results in scar tissue also called sclerosis, hence the name Multiple Sclerosis. Fibromyalgia is also a chronic condition. The underlying cause of fibromyagia is still not known. However, the belief among scientists today is that there is abnormal sensory processing in the central nervous system. This leads to the patient experiencing an amplification of pain symptoms. There is also some research that suggests that levels of certain neurotransmitters, amino acids and other chemicals are out of balance.
With both conditions there are no clear laboratory findings or physical symptoms to help positively identify these conditions. They both require the patient to provide a detailed medical history which does not necessarily help to diagnose the condition but rather rules out other possible conditions. For MS to be diagnosed there must be evidence of damage to two separate areas of the central nervous system which can be seen by an MRI, and the damage must have occurred at least one moth apart. For Fibromyalgia to be diagnosed certain symptoms must be present in the patients self reported medical history along with the presence of multiple tender points at characteristic locations. This criteria was established by the American College of Rheumatology.
Multiple Sclerosis and Fibromyalgia symptoms vary greatly from individual to individual. No two patients experience the conditions in the exact same way. In addition each day can be different for people living with these conditions. MS can bring on symptoms of fatigue, pain, numbness, loss of balance, vertigo, memory loss and muscle spasticity among many others. Fibromyalgia brings on chronic, profound and widespread pain. Patients have described the pain as stabbing, shooting, and deep muscular aching. There can also be numbness, fatigue, memory loss, difficulty getting a good night's rest and hypersensitivity to sounds, lights and temperature.
Since there is no known exact cause for either of these conditions this also means there is unfortunately no cure. The treatment options are aimed at enhancing the quality of life and reducing disability as much as possible. The treatment of MS is primarily through medication. There are a multitude of medications used and there can be a long trial period to match the right medication and dose with each patient. Fibromyalgia treatment also relies heavily on medication. Over the counter or prescription pain medication and sleep aids attempt to minimize the symptoms and relax the body. However, both conditions do respond to regular exercise, especially exercise in the water where pressure is taken off sore joints. The warm water also helps to relax the muscles. A gentle yoga practice has also been shown to be helpful in managing symptoms. Through yoga the patient slowly and gently stretches and relaxes the muscles and learns to use meditation to manage the stress that occurs with any chronic condition. The practice of meditation is extremely helpful as stress can worsen the symptoms in both these conditions.