Many people with pain conditions experience discomfort for months or years, resolving to just deal with it and go about their lives. Sometimes their pain has a definitive cause; other times not. But treating any kind of pain means knowing what you’re dealing with. Two well-known pain conditions are chronic pain syndrome and fibromyalgia.
What is Chronic Pain?
A nervous system response to acute pain is normal – pain receptors are on high alert to warn you of potential injury and to let you know you must care for your needs. But chronic pain is unique – it persists, sometimes relentlessly. Chronic pain signals can fire in the nervous system for weeks, months, or longer.
Chronic pain is one of the most expensive health issues in America. Higher medical expenses, reduced income, lost productivity, insurance payouts, and legal issues are examples of the economic consequences of this condition.
What is Fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia is known for widespread pain and soreness, like sensitivity to being touched. The discomfort and tenderness may come and go and radiate around your body. It’s a rare condition, affecting only 2 to 4 percent of U.S. adults, but is observed more often in women than men. According to the American College of Rheumatology, it’s not autoimmune or inflammation-based but may indicate problems with the nervous system. There’s no single test to diagnose it, but fibromyalgia can be treated.
How Are They Different?
The biggest difference between the two is what causes each condition. With fibromyalgia, the origin is unknown. With chronic pain syndrome, there also may be problems understanding possible causes, but the pain is often traced back to a lingering injury or illness.
What causes Fibromyalgia?
Problems with the brain and spinal cord are possible causes, but there are others, too, including:
- A person’s genetic makeup, though one or more genes related to fibromyalgia, haven’t been identified, yet.
- Certain things can trigger the condition or make it worse, like arthritis, an injury, and physical or emotional stress.
- Fluctuating brain chemicals and protein levels. In this case, damaged or weakened neurotransmitters like glutamate can influence pain sensations, making ketamine a possible treatment.
What Causes Chronic Pain Syndrome?
Chronic pain doesn’t have a single cause, either. Instead, there are a host of potential causes of chronic pain. In some cases, you may have been injured or suffered an illness and thought you recovered, only to continue experiencing the pain afterward. Chronic, long-term pain can even be triggered by conditions like arthritis or cancer. Many have been known to experience chronic pain without evidence of past injury or evidence of illness. Still, the discomfort may also be influenced by mental health issues like anxiety or depression.
How Are They Similar?
Chronic pain syndrome and fibromyalgia are most similar because pain symptoms can happen anywhere in the body, at any time, to anyone regardless of age or gender. Both share many of the same symptoms, though they affect everyone differently:
- Joint pain and stiffness
- Muscle pain
- Problems sleeping, either too much or not enough
- Changes in diet, with potential fluctuations in weight
- Cognitive issues like thinking, concentrating, and decision making.
- Headaches, including migraines.
- Sensitivity to light, sound, or other stimuli
- Irritable bowel syndrome and other gastrointestinal problems
- Joint pain without swelling or changes in skin color or texture
- There is no single medicine to treat pain symptoms of both conditions, but some healthcare professionals recommend alternative treatment, such as ketamine infusion therapy from specialty clinics nationwide
- Both are controversial conditions from a medical and scientific basis, mostly because neither has a specific cause
- Both are wrapped in stigma, with some people wondering if fibromyalgia even exists
- Neither are fatal conditions
- Both conditions may lead to financial problems if the pain keeps you from working regularly
Diagnosis & Treatment
In both cases, diagnosis involves seeing a healthcare provider for a complete physical examination. Depending on your symptoms and other factors, you may be asked to undergo multiple diagnostic procedures, like X-rays, blood tests, nerve and imaging scans, and many others. You’ll also be asked to describe the pain in detail, including where and how often it happens, and whether it has potential triggers. Your healthcare provider may also quiz you about personal and family medical history.
Testing outcomes can inform the kind of treatment you’re referred to, especially if a medical problem is discovered. Prescription and non-prescription medicine, physical therapy, diet and lifestyle changes, and ketamine therapy from a specialty clinic may help relieve pain symptoms of either condition.