What Is It? Lupus or Fibromyalgia? What You Need to Know
Among all the syndromes of our days there are two that excite a continuous fascination on researchers and doctors around the world: Lupus and Fibromyalgia. Both of these medical conditions have long been researched and on both of their causes many theories have been built. Still, up to now, there is no absolute and complete answer to the questions both doctors and their patients pose about Fibromyalgia and Lupus.
In both of these cases, determining the actual cause behind it is almost impossible, mainly because they show a lot of random symptoms that can differ a lot from one person to another. On Fibromyalgia, the main theory states that it is caused by the abnormal levels of neuro-chemicals in the human brain, which lead not necessarily to pain itself, but to feeling pain more stringent.
Other theories claim that environment and genetics are important in determining what actually triggered the Fibromyalgia syndrome, but up to now, no conclusive evidence has been brought.
There are even theories that are based on how the number of vessels in the extremities of the human body can change the way the brain perceives pain. How the other symptoms of the syndrome occur and how they can be so varied and affect multiple parts of one’s body – this still remains a complete mystery.
As for Lupus, things are not clearer either (not even by far, actually). Its causes may be related to a lot of things, including environment and stress (like in the case of Fibromyalgia), but not limited to it. Lupus does seem to “run in the family” and stress does play an important part, but there are other causes behind it as well.
Among these, you can often find infections with CMV (cytomegalovirus), a parvovirus, Hepatitis C virus and the Epstein-Barr one. Also, exposure to UV light, to trichloroethylene (and other chemicals) and certain types of antibiotics (such as the penicillin-based ones) can be causes of the development of Lupus.
The mystery behind the causes of Lupus and those of Fibromyalgia are not the only thing that these two medical conditions have in common. Also, some of their symptoms may overlap a lot to the point where misdiagnoses (and thus, poor treatment) occur. Some of the symptoms they have in common include painful joints, swelling of the extremities (in the case of Fibromyalgia only the sensation may occur), fatigue, photosensitivity and rapid, unexpected shifts in weight can occur.
One thing that is quite particular to Lupus though is the fact that patients can develop butterfly-shaped rashes on various parts of their skin, which is not found in the case of Fibromyalgia. However, a lot of Lupus patients show no such symptom as well.
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Furthermore, Lupus can be mortal (and Fibromyalgia cannot directly cause the death of anyone), especially when it gets to affect serious very important parts of the human body. Quite frequently, it can get to affect kidneys (leading to kidney failure), lungs, the Central Nervous System, the heart, and it can make one’s body more prone to acquire infections or even to develop Cancer.
So how can medical professionals distinguish between Lupus and Fibromyalgia?
Thorough analysis of a patient’s state is key when trying to put a diagnosis and having to choose between Lupus or Fibromyalgia. A series of inquiries will be made by the doctor, as well as a series of examinations to establish how many parts of the body are affected and how they are damaged.
In the case of Lupus, medical professionals will start by analyzing the patient’s symptoms and they will run a series of basic blood tests to determine if he/she has anemia or lacks certain elements in the blood. Furthermore, the doctor will also run an ERS (an Erythrocyte Sedimentation Rate) which can determine the presence of an autoimmune disease in the body. If the red blood cells settle faster than the usual during this examination, then the patient will become a Lupus or an autoimmune disease suspect.
Other tests that may be run by a doctor to determine exactly if it is Lupus or not that he/she is dealing with include testing the kidneys and the liver (to see if certain enzymes are present or not), testing the urine (to see which is the level of proteins and which is the level of red blood cells in it) and testing for Syphilis (to check the presence of anti-phospholipid antibodies).
In the case of a patient who is rather a suspect of Fibromyalgia, the medical professional will start out by testing the pressure points on the patient’s body. According to a set of guidelines, if the doctor is testing 18 such pressure points and the patient finds them painful, then the chances of Fibromyalgia are quite high.
Further on, the doctor will run a blood test that is very good in diagnosing this syndrome. This test is called FM/a and it can determine whether or not certain markers are present in the blood cells (markers which, apparently, are present in all the patients suffering from Fibromyalgia).
Other than that, there are not many tests that can clearly determine the presence of Fibromyalgia, although doctors may choose to investigate the patient for other Fibromyalgia-related diseases as well (Arthritis, Hypothyroidism, renal diseases, the Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and so on).
Diagnosing correctly Fibromyalgia and Lupus is essential for the improvement of the patient’s health. Although the two medical conditions do show common things, their treatment may vary a lot and it may not be “transferrable”. For instance, in the case of Lupus, measurements will be taken to avoid serious complications, while in the case of Fibromyalgia other than pain killers and anti-inflammatory drugs will not be administered (and, according to each case, anti-depressants and sleeping pills will be prescribed). In the case of Lupus, the same range of drugs may be used, but the dosages and the exact type may vary, according to each patient’s symptoms, their medical history and their severity.