Are you experiencing stiffness and swelling of your joints? Are you feeling fatigued? Do you have muscle pain?
When an individual exhibits these symptoms together, it may be a case of rheumatoid arthritis combined with fibromyalgia as these two conditions may sometimes co-occur. Sometimes, developing one of these conditions may result in the development of the other.
In reality, just around 2% of the population in the U.S. are affected by fibromyalgia. However, it tends to be more pervasive among those who have rheumatoid arthritis. In fact, up to 20% of RA patients also suffer from fibromyalgia. While researchers are still looking into the connection between these debilitating conditions, they have already identified numerous factors that can explain the prevalence of the comorbidity.
Understanding the Connection Between RA and Fibromyalgia
Individuals in good health have an immune system that can fight off pathogens, viruses, and bacteria. However, because rheumatoid arthritis is a disease that weakens the immune system, RA patients experience swelling and pain in their joints.
Unlike rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia is not classified as an autoimmune disorder. That said, its symptoms are like those of rheumatoid arthritis, such as stiffness, lethargy, and muscle/joint pain. Experts have not yet identified the exact cause of fibromyalgia, but they believe that it is a result of a neurological irregularity that heightens pain sensitivity. A sensation that may not necessarily be painful to most people causes extra tenderness in those with fibromyalgia.
Experts believe that this is linked to genes or a genetic variation that causes irregularity in the exchange of signals throughout the body. Researchers assert that the chronic pain related to fibromyalgia puts the nervous system in overdrive, leading to a heightened pain sensitivity.
Inflammation—the defining characteristic of RA—may also play a role in the link between rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia. Too much inflammation in the body results in irritation, swelling, tenderness, and pain. While fibromyalgia is not thought to be an inflammatory disease, continuous inflammation may contribute to its appearance.
Rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia also have certain risk factors in common. Lifestyle choices, being overweight, and too much stress can all contribute to a higher risk of developing both diseases.
Rheumatoid Arthritis Fibromyalgia Treatments
RA and fibromyalgia necessitate the use of different medications. In rheumatoid arthritis, the standard medications in use include steroids, NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs), disease-modifying medications, and biologics.
Fibromyalgia, on the other hand, is treated with the use of over-the-counter pain medications, anticonvulsants, and antidepressants.
Making certain lifestyle modifications is also paramount in managing both RA and fibromyalgia. This includes adopting a regular physical activity regimen, improving sleep quality, and taking up physical therapy.
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