By:Frederick Wolfe, M.D
Lupus erythematosus and fibromyalgia are two conditions that share a lot of the same symptoms. In fact, it’s pretty common to get the two of them mixed up. That can complicate things when it comes to getting a diagnosis and beginning treatment. That’s why it’s important to know how they’re similar and what makes them different.
There are, after all, a lot of connections between the two conditions, which might even offer a clue into what causes fibromyalgia. So what is lupus erythematosus? How is it similar to fibromyalgia?And how can you tell the difference between the two?
What Is Lupus Erythematosus?
Lupus erythematosus is one of those complicated-sounding medical terms. But the reality is that it’s really just regular lupus. When you hear people say the word “lupus,” they’re really talking about lupus erythematosus. It’s just the longer medical term for the condition.
So what is lupus? Well, lupus is an autoimmune disease. That means that it’s caused by your immune system turning against you. You see, in a healthy immune system, white blood cells create something called antibodies. These antibodies identify and attack foreign cells invading your body like viruses and bacteria. And after fighting off one of these infections, the immune system becomes conditioned to identify and attack that cell next time.
But with lupus erythematosus, your antibodies become conditioned to attack your own cells instead of bacteria or viruses. So they begin breaking down the tissue in your body. The most obvious sign of lupus occurs when it attacks the skin, resulting in a distinctive “butterfly” rash across the face. But lupus can damage everything in your body including vital organs like the heart and kidneys, which can make it deadly.
What’s The Link With Fibromyalgia?
We know that people with lupus often develop fibromyalgia. It’s estimated that as many as 25% of people with lupus also have fibromyalgia. And when you compare that figure with the fact that the rate of fibromyalgia in the general population is just 2% it’s easy to see that there must be some sort of link between the two conditions.
So, what exactly is going on? Well, the link probably has something to do with the fact that lupus erythematosus is an autoimmune condition. That’s because we know that people with other autoimmune conditions, such as arthritis, are also more likely to develop fibromyalgia. And autoimmune conditions are a sort of a tricky thing to nail down. Because they all involve the immune system, they can all cause similar symptoms, which sometimes makes it hard to differentiate between them.
Some have speculated that fibromyalgia is an autoimmune condition as well, and there is some scientific research that backs that up. It could be that the same immune system mechanisms that cause lupus are triggering fibromyalgia symptoms as well in people with the condition. Unfortunately, we don’t know for sure.
And there are plenty of people who have fibromyalgia with no other autoimmune conditions. It could be that the autoimmune conditions like lupus are triggering the same sorts of mechanisms that occur in people with fibromyalgia, but again, we really just don’t know for sure. We only know that there is a link between the two conditions but until we know what causes fibromyalgia, we won’t know exactly what it is.
Still, lupus creates a lot of symptoms that are very similar to fibromyalgia, which can make telling them apart difficult. Lupus leads to things like chronic fatigue, widespread pain, inflammation, achy joints, and chest pains. All of these are common in people with fibromyalgia, which means it’s hard to judge which condition you have based on the symptoms.
But there is a simple way to tell the difference.
How Can You Tell The Difference?
If you have any of these symptoms for a long time, you should go to a doctor. These are obvious signs that something is wrong and the sooner you get a diagnosis, the sooner you can start treatment.
And if you have these symptoms, your doctor will probably want to test you for lupus and fibromyalgia. To begin with, they will likely give you a test for fibromyalgia which is a simple diagnostic procedure that they perform by pressing their thumb into 18 specific points on the body. If you have pain in 11 of them, it’s a good sign that you have fibromyalgia.
But they will also want to rule out other conditions like lupus. To do that, they will do a simple blood test. They’ll test the levels of antibodies in your blood to see if they are too high, which indicates an autoimmune condition i.e. lupus erythematosus. So a doctor can tell you if you have lupus of fibromyalgia pretty conclusively and quickly.
But let us know, what do you think of the link between lupus and fibromyalgia? Have you had either condition? Both? Tell us in the comments below.