Fibromyalgia & Bipolar Disorder

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There is a strong connection between fibromyalgia and bipolar disorder. There are many similarities between the two disorders, and people with fibromyalgia are sometimes misdiagnosed with bipolar disorder and vice versa. Although you can’t diagnose yourself either way, having more information on the subject can help you to be better equipped to raise your concerns with your doctor.

Concurrent Diagnosis

The connection between bipolar disorder and fibromyalgia begins with the frequency of the disorders occurring together. According to Dr. Jim Phelps, a person with fibromyalgia is 153 times more likely to develop bipolar disorder than someone with rheumatoid arthritis. There is still no conclusive evidence providing a reason for the high number of people who have both conditions. In addition, it is difficult to say whether fibromyalgia makes a person more likely to have bipolar disorder or if it is the other way around.

Overlapping Symptoms

Bipolar disorder and fibromyalgia have some symptoms in common that make misdiagnosis possible. Both disorders cause mood swings and sleep disturbances. The irritability and restlessness associated with fibromyalgia can be mistaken for hypomania. Bipolar patients may also have frequent muscle pain, usually psychosomatic, due to stress. This can be mistaken for the pain that is associated with fibromyalgia. People suffering from fibromyalgia may also suffer from chronic depression similar to that experienced by those with bipolar disorder.

Distinguishing Characteristics of Bipolar Disorder

Although people with fibromyalgia may have symptoms of mania, they do not usually suffer from full manic episodes unless they are also diagnosed with bipolar disorder. The impulsive behavior, racing thoughts, difficulty concentrating and other symptoms that identify a manic episode help to distinguish between the two disorders. The presence of symptoms exclusive to bipolar disorder is the key to understanding if the symptoms indicate bipolar disorder rather than fibromyalgia.

Distinguishing Characteristics of Fibromyalgia

The pain experienced by those with fibromyalgia is different from that experienced by people with bipolar disorder. People with fibromyalgia will have pain in specific areas called “tender points.” There are 18 tender points in total, but a person need have pain in only 11 to be diagnosed with fibromyalgia. The pain must also be present for three or more months as opposed to psychosomatic pain caused by stress, which usually stops when stress is reduced.

Testing

Unfortunately there is no definitive test to screen for bipolar disorder. In addition, testing for fibromyalgia is still in the infant stages. It is now known that fibromyalgia is caused by improper blood flow in the brain, and special imaging can test for this in some cases. More often the doctor or psychiatrist will try to rule out any other potential causes for the symptoms and then treat for whichever condition seems more likely.

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