Lupus and fibromyalgia have a lot in common. For starters, both conditions are considered to be relatively rare. Between the two, the conditions affect around 5.5 million adults in the United States, with fibromyalgia being the more common of the two, making up nearly 4 million of those cases. They also share many of the same symptoms, and can both be extremely hard to diagnose. Lupus and fibromyalgia have so much in common, in fact, that you may be wondering, “Are lupus and fibromyalgia related?”
So, are lupus and fibromyalgia related? Let’s take a look at what we know about each.
Lupus and Fibromyalgia Explained
Lupus is an autoimmune disorder. This means that it causes your immune system to attack your own body in the same way a healthy immune system would attack a virus like the flu. For people with lupus, this self-sabotage causes pain, swelling, skin rashes, and even damage to vital organs like the heart and brain.
Like many other autoimmune diseases, it’s not exactly clear what causes lupus. However, researchers believe there is a genetic factor to the disease, as it appears to run in families. Lupus also appears to mainly affect women between the ages of 15 and 44.
Fibromyalgia, on the other hand, is a chronic pain disorder that mainly affects connective tissues like muscles and ligaments. People with fibromyalgia may be more sensitive to pain. This may explain why other pain-related disorders like irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS), and migraines are all more commonly observed in people with fibromyalgia.
Like lupus, it’s not exactly clear what causes fibromyalgia. Similarly, one commonly cited cause is genetics. Other factors that may trigger a fibromyalgia flare include viral infections, physical trauma, or autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis (RA) or lupus.
If you’re still confused as to what the difference between these two conditions is, there’s no need to worry. Below we’ll examine how you can tell the two apart, and how they are both treated.
How to Tell the Difference Between Lupus and Fibromyalgia
As previously mentioned, lupus and fibromyalgia share many similarities. Where the two overlap the most are the symptoms they cause, mainly fatigue and muscle pain. With that said, there are some key differences between the two. Below are some of the most commonly reported symptoms unique to each condition.
Common Symptoms of Lupus
Lupus is an autoimmune disease, which means it can cause symptoms that are very different from fibromyalgia, which is a chronic pain condition. These typically include things like inflammation, skin problems, or organ damage.
Other common symptoms unique to lupus that people with fibromyalgia are unlikely to have include:
- A butterfly-shaped rash on the face
- Skin lesions
- Body rashes
- Shortness of breath
- Kidney damage or failure
Common Symptoms of Fibromyalgia
Fibromyalgia in and of itself is not considered to be a life-threatening disorder. However, it can cause a host of uncomfortable, painful, and oftentimes debilitating symptoms. Symptoms unique to fibromyalgia that are not reported in people with lupus include:
- Sleep disorders
- Long-lasting, dull aches and pains
- Cognitive difficulties like brain fog
How Lupus and Fibromyalgia Are Treated
It’s very important to get the right diagnosis when determining whether you have lupus or fibromyalgia. This is because treatments for these conditions are very different. For example, if you have lupus, your doctor may want to monitor you closely for signs of organ damage, which is not a known risk of fibromyalgia.
With that said, as previously mentioned, you may have both lupus and fibromyalgia at the same time. In fact, some estimates state that nearly 25 percent of lupus patients also have fibromyalgia. If you are living with lupus, and your symptoms, specifically those like pain and fatigue, don’t get better with your current treatment regimen, you may want to ask your doctor about a fibromyalgia diagnosis.
So, how are lupus and fibromyalgia treated, and how are those treatment options different? Let’s take a look.
If you have lupus, a typical first step your doctor will likely take is to prescribe you medications that help with inflammation. Since lupus is an autoimmune disease, one of the major focuses of treatment is to stop your body from attacking itself. Some of the more commonly prescribed medications for lupus include:
- Hydroxychloroquine: This is a commonly prescribed medication for lupus that relieves body-wide symptoms such as fever, fatigue, muscle aches, and skin rashes.
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): NSAIDs like ibuprofen or naproxen can help reduce inflammation and relieve joint pain associated with lupus.
- Immunosuppressives: Lupus oftentimes will cause damage to your body’s organs. The most common of these include your kidneys, heart, and lungs. If this happens, you’ll need treatment with steroids, immunosuppressants, or both. Drugs like mycophenolate (Cellcept) and azathioprine (Imuran) both can help calm down your immune system to stop it from attacking your body.
Should you have serious organ damage as a result of lupus, or if immunosuppressive drugs do not work, your doctor will likely recommend starting a more targeted drug regimen. Depending on how serious your condition is, what symptoms you have, and what your doctor feels is best, these targeted therapies may include some of the following drugs:
- Belimumab (Benlysta)
- Anifrolumab (Saphnelo)
- Rituximab (Truxima)
All of these drugs can shut down or slow the cells in your body that promote lupus.
For fibromyalgia treatments, your doctor may prescribe drugs that target the brain chemicals that are responsible for sending pain signals. The most common of these include:
- Antidepressants: Antidepressants are one of the most commonly prescribed medications for both fibromyalgia and chronic pain as a whole. However, most people are unaware that antidepressants can affect pain. The first route most doctors will try is a tricyclic antidepressant, also known as a TCA, such as amitriptyline or nortriptyline. These are usually taken before going to bed, and help aid with sleep. If TCAs don’t work, your doctor may prescribe a type of antidepressant known as a serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor (SNRI), such as duloxetine (Cymbalta, Irenka) or milnacipran (Savella).
- Anticonvulsants: Anticonvulsants, typically used for patients with epilepsy or other seizure-causing conditions, is another drug you may not be aware can help with fibromyalgia. Certain epilepsy drugs like pregabalin and gabapentin can help relieve pain and help with sleep. These can also be taken alongside other medications like antidepressants.
Treatment for fibromyalgia may oftentimes include non-medication therapies. These may include things like acupuncture, yoga, or other natural remedies that help reduce stress.
Bottom Line: Are Lupus and Fibromyalgia Related?
So, are fibromyalgia and lupus related? The short answer is no, not in the way that one might cause the other. While the two conditions share many similarities, such as affecting mainly women and being relatively rare, the two are not thought to contribute to one another.
With that said, there is a pretty substantial number of patients with lupus who also have fibromyalgia. This is likely because lupus causes a weakness in the immune system, known as being immunocompromised, which may make the body more susceptible to fibromyalgia pain.
So, what does this mean? If you believe that you have symptoms of either lupus or fibromyalgia, it’s important to talk with your doctor. A proper diagnosis is important to get the right treatment and may help prevent future damage to your body.
Here are some key differences:
Nature of the Conditions:
- Lupus is an autoimmune disease where the immune system attacks healthy tissues, leading to inflammation and damage in various organs and tissues.
- Fibromyalgia, on the other hand, is a chronic pain syndrome characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain, fatigue, and tenderness in localized areas.
- Lupus symptoms can include joint pain, skin rashes, fatigue, fever, and organ involvement.
- Fibromyalgia symptoms primarily involve widespread pain, fatigue, sleep disturbances, and cognitive difficulties (often referred to as “fibro fog”).
- Lupus is typically diagnosed through a combination of clinical symptoms, blood tests, and sometimes imaging studies.
- Fibromyalgia is diagnosed based on a set of criteria that include widespread pain and the presence of tender points, but it doesn’t involve autoimmune markers.