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The Difference between Fibromyalgia and Polymyalgia

written by: DaniellaNicole • edited by: Leigh A. Zaykoski • updated: 10/29/2009

While they share some symptoms, such as appearing mostly in women and being characterized, in part, by pain, there is a distinct difference between fibromyalgia and polymyalgia.

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    Fibromyalgia and Polymyalgia Defined

    Fibromyalgia, also known as Fibromyalgia Syndrome (FMS), is characterized by 11 out of 18 tender points causing pain when touched with firm pressure and a myriad of other unexplained symptoms including sleep disorders and fatigue. Fibromyalgia is believed to be the result of abnormal central nervous system function.

    Polymyalgia, also known as Polymyalgia Rheumatica (PMR), is characterized by pain and stiffness in the hips, shoulders and neck; inflammation is present. Polymyalgia is an inflammatory autoimmune disorder.

    Though they are two very different medical conditions, they have some things in common, which is why the two may be confused. To add to the confusion, sometimes the terms are incorrectly used interchangeably; likely because of the fairly generic names they have been given. In medical terminology, ‘myalgia’ means pain. This is a symptom common to both conditions. The word ‘fibro’ means fibrous tissue while ‘poly’ means many. Since ‘much pain’ in the muscles or fibrous tissues accompanies both disorders, it is easy to see how the mistake can be made.

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    What Fibromyalgia and Polymyalgia have in Common

    Both polymyalgia and fibromyalgia occur more frequently in adult females than in adult males, adolescents and children. Both have a symptom list that includes stiffness upon waking, headaches, flu-like symptoms and pain.

    Despite these similarities, polymyalgia and fibromyalgia are different medical ailments that require different treatments and have very different prognoses.

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    The Difference between Fibromyalgia and Polymyalgia

    One major difference between fibromyalgia and polymyalgia is the fact that the two are treated in very different ways. Polymyalgia can be treated effectively with NSAIDS and corticosteroids to control inflammation. Conversely, fibromyalgia itself is not inflammatory in nature, so NSAIDS and corticosteroids show little, if any benefit in patients.

    While the American College of Rheumatology estimates that 2 to 4 percent of the population has fibromyalgia, primarily women of child-bearing age, but including men, adolescents and children; polymyalgia is considered rare and usually only appears in individuals who are age 50 or older, the average age being 70.

    Fibromyalgia is considered chronic, which means that it may last for the lifetime of the patient. Polymyalgia, conversely, can be effectively treated and usually only runs for two years in patients.

    Fibromyalgia does not result in fatalities or the development of dangerous conditions, but polymyalgia may result in the development of giant cell arteritis, which is a dangerous inflammation of the arteries leading to the head.

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    Resources:

    Fibromyalgia. American College of Rheumatology. Daniel J. Clauw, MD and Denise Taylor-Moon. Reviewed by the American College of Rheumatology Patient Education Task Force. Last updated June 2006. http://www.rheumatology.org/public/factsheets/diseases_and_conditions/fibromyalgia.asp?aud=pat

    Are fibromyalgia and polymyalgia rheumatica the same thing? The Medical Team. Last Updated August 2, 2007. http://www.netdoctor.co.uk/ate/musclesjoints/203676.html

    Difference Between Fibromyalgia and Polymyalgia. Daniel Clauw, MD, Rheumatologist. Arthritis Today. http://www.arthritistoday.org/community/expert-q--a/fibromyalgia/polymyalgia-fibromyalgia.php