Doctors still have much to learn about what causes fibromyalgia. What they do know is that many times, it doesn’t occur alone. People with fibromyalgia frequently cope with chronic headaches, depression, and other painful or debilitating disorders.
Understanding how these conditions interact may eventually help researchers develop better treatments for fibromyalgia. In the meantime, learning about related conditions could help you identify other causes for your symptoms. This knowledge can help you and your doctor manage and improve your health.
Adults with fibromyalgia have about triple the risk of developing depression as those without the disease. In part, this is because similar disruptions in brain chemicals contribute to both conditions.
What’s more, consequences of fibromyalgia, such as being unable to work, may contribute to feelings of sadness and isolation. Eventually, this can lead to depression, which in turn makes fibromyalgia worse.
Antidepressant medications can treat both pain and the symptoms of depression that often accompany fibromyalgia. Regular physical activity also does double duty, boosting mood while decreasing aching, fatigue, and tenderness.
2. Rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and other rheumatic diseases
At least one-fourth of people with fibromyalgia also have arthritis or another similar condition. Together with fibromyalgia, these are known as rheumatic diseases.
Rheumatic diseases are characterized by pain and inflammation in the joints, tendons, or other connective tissue in the body. They include rheumatoid arthritis, in which the body’s own immune system attacks the soft tissue that lines the joints, and lupus, a more widespread autoimmune condition.
It’s sometimes difficult for doctors to tell these conditions apart. But getting an accurate diagnosis can improve your treatment plan and control symptoms, whether you have one or more rheumatic diseases. Search for a pain specialist, rheumatologist, or other doctor who has experience in treating fibromyalgia and similar diseases.
3. Headaches, including migraines
Both fibromyalgia and migraine headaches strike women more frequently than men. Fibromyalgia is six times more common in women, while women have triple the risk of migraines. And although fibromyalgia affects 2 to 4 percent of the population, it’s present in as many as one-third of people who get migraines.
Research suggests that changes in the brain areas that process pain may be associated with an increased sensitivity to pain that can contribute to both conditions. Treatments that ease fibromyalgia symptoms—including antidepressants and anti-seizure medications—can also prevent migraines and other headaches.
4. Bowel and bladder conditions
Already isolated by pain, people with fibromyalgia are unfortunately more likely to have conditions that affect their ability to use the bathroom normally. These include irritable bowel syndrome, irritable bladder (increased urinary urgency or frequency), and bladder pain syndrome, also known as interstitial cystitis.
For instance, in one survey, 17.7 percent of people with fibromyalgia also had bladder pain syndrome. This compared with 2.6 percent of those without fibromyalgia. Doctors think that sometimes, disorders that cause pain in one area of the body, such as the bladder, eventually spread, triggering a system-wide condition such as fibromyalgia.
The symptoms of bowel and bladder conditions may ebb and flow over time. Stress often contributes to flare-ups. Managing stress through regular exercise, meditation, and deep breathing can help. Support groups allow you to share your experiences with others who face similar challenges.
5. Chronic fatigue syndrome
Both fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) cause pain and exhaustion. Other overlapping symptoms include headaches, impaired memory, and trouble concentrating.
In fact, the conditions are so similar that some people believe CFS and fibromyalgia are different forms of the same condition. However, there are a few important differences. For instance, physical activity often worsens CFS but improves symptoms of fibromyalgia. If you have both conditions, work closely with your health care team on a treatment plan.