International Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Fibromyalgia Awareness Day 2020: Characteristics of two similar conditions
ME/CFS and FM share the same International Awareness Day primarily because they have too much in common, and usually co-occur.
You might think it’s odd that two diseases like myalgic encephalomyelitis/chronic fatigue syndrome (ME/CFS) and fibromyalgia (FM) share the same International Awareness Day, observed on May 12 every year. But the fact is, ME/CFS and FM have too much in common, and usually co-occur.
What they have in common
According to a study published in QJM: An International Journal of Medicine in 2013, both ME/CFS and FM are “medically unexplained illnesses, predominantly of women, characterized by disabling fatigue and by widespread pain with tenderness, respectively.” Since these diseases often co-occur and have a similar psychogenic process of symptom amplification (the psychological tendency to misconstrue the significance of normal physical sensations like pain or fatigue), many researchers and medical professionals consider them to be a single syndrome instead of two separate ones.
Even the risk factors that usually lead to them are the same: stress, injury, acute illness, fractured sleep and exertion. What’s more, both ME/CFS and FM have the following key symptoms in common:
- Chronic and widespread pain
- Unrefreshing sleep
- Cognitive difficulties
In fact, the differences in their symptoms is just a matter of degrees. For example, the primary symptom of ME/CFS is fatigue, while that of FM is pain - but pain and fatigue occur in both these diseases. Even the diagnosis of both ME/CFS and FM are done through exclusion, i.e. when all other possible causes of illness are ruled out, either of these two can be narrowed down on.
Treating ME/CFS and Fibromyalgia
Given the nature and commonalities between ME/CFS and FM, it’s next to impossible to find out exactly which disease you have. Further research into these diseases and particularly their differences is needed. In the meantime, the treatment of both ME/CFS and FM are done the same way.
The core of the treatment for ME/CFS will focus on managing fatigue and similarly, the core of the treatment of FM highlights pain relief and management. ME/CFS sometimes follows a viral infection, in which case antiviral medications are sometimes prescribed for it. This apart, the treatment of both these illnesses may involve the following:
- Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)
- Acupuncture and deep tissue massages
- Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and tricyclic antidepressants
- Non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and opioids
- Prescription sleep medications and aids
Living with a debilitating chronic illness, whether it’s ME/CFS or FM, can be very difficult indeed. If you have any of the symptoms of either of these two very similar syndromes, get yourself checked, diagnosed and start out on the journey of managing pain and fatigue as soon as possible.
For more information, read our article on Fibromyalgia: Symptoms, causes, treatment and prevention.
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