Polymyalgia rheumatica versus fibromyalgia

It can be challenging to tell the difference between polymyalgia rheumatica and fibromyalgia. Both disorders appear out of nowhere, include body and muscle pain, and most often affect white women over 50 years old, though they can affect any gender or race of any age.

Polymaglia rheumatica, also known as PMR, can be either progressive or sudden and is marked by stiffness in the shoulders, neck, hips and thighs, and severe muscle pain. Fibromyalgia, also known as FMS, is marked by pain throughout the body and fatigue, and can also include irritable bowel syndrome, headache, sleep disturbances and numbness. Polymaglia rheumatica usually responds to a low dosage treatment of prednisone, and fibromyalgia does not.


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PMR has been around for over 100 years and is most often found in women over the age of 50. Fibromyalgia is found most often in women between the ages of 35 years old and 60 years old. PMR means 'many muscle pain', and FMS means "fibrous tissue muscle pain". While similar, the two disorders are completely different. Only a physician can make the distinction between PMR and FMS, through laboratory tests, a physical examination and a detailed medical and family history.

The cause of the two disorders is still unclear. For PMR it is thought that genetics, infection and aging are the main causes. For FMS it is thought that physical or mental trauma, brain chemical imbalance, infection and genetics are the culprits. While low dosages of prednisone does usually help with polymyalgia rheumatica, fibromyalgia responds best to a variety of medicines that target specific symptoms, such as anti-depressants, sleeping pills and prescription pain medication. Fibromyalgia has also been known to respond to alternative and complimentary medicines and exercise.

About the Author: Tim Moore is a former Social Security Disability Examiner in North Carolina, has been interviewed by the NY Times and the LA Times on the disability system, and is an Accredited Disability Representative (ADR) in North Carolina. For assistance on a disability application or Appeal in NC, click here.

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