Difference Between Fibromyalgia and Arthritis

Medically Reviewed by Dr. Aman Priya Khanna
Written by Rajath R Prabhu, last updated on 29 August 2022| min read
Difference Between Fibromyalgia and Arthritis

Quick Summary

  • Fibromyalgia and arthritis have similar symptoms, making it difficult for people to differentiate between the two
  • Even though the reasons behind these conditions are very different, here are some of the effects that both of them can have on the human body:
  • Joint pain
  • Muscle pain
  • Fatigue and chronic exhaustion
  • Pain mirrored on either side of the body
  • Joint stiffness that feels worse in the morning or after staying inactive for sometime
  • Inability to move due to the pain
  • Sleep disturbance

Fibromyalgia and arthritis have similar symptoms, making it difficult for people to differentiate between the two. Even though the reasons behind these conditions are very different, here are some of the effects that both of them can have on the human body:-

  1. Joint pain
  2. Muscle pain
  3. Fatigue and chronic exhaustion
  4. Pain mirrored on either side of the body
  5. Joint stiffness that feels worse in the morning or after staying inactive for sometime
  6. Inability to move due to the pain
  7. Sleep disturbances

What is Arthritis?

Arthritis can be defined as the swelling and tenderness of one or more joints in the body. This condition can worsen with age. Two main types of arthritis that can damage joints severely are osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.


In this type of arthritis, the major damage is caused to a joint's cartilage, which is a hard and slick coating on the ends of the bones where they meet to form a joint. The cartilage is responsible for cushioning the ends of the bones so that there is no friction in the movement of the joints. When the cartilage gets damaged, there is direct grinding of the joints during movement, which causes pain and restriction. Usually, this wear and tear of the cartilage take place over a span of years, but it can also happen due to an injury or infection of an open wound close to a joint.

Osteoarthritis also causes deterioration of the connective tissues in the bones that hold the joints together. This can make the joints swollen and inflamed.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

In this case, the body's immune system attacks the inner lining of the joint. The lining is a tough membrane that is enclosed in all the joints. It is also called the synovial membrane. Due to the attack from the immune system, the affected joint's membrane becomes swollen and inflamed. If this arthritis is not treated on time, it can permanently destroy the membrane and even the bones in the joint.


Fibromyalgia is a pain disorder that affects the bones, joints, and surrounding muscles in the body. Its major symptoms include fatigue, problems with memory and mood, trouble in sleeping, and pain. Fibromyalgia can cause excessive pain in one or more joints in the body that may require immediate attention.

There is no exact cause of fibromyalgia. However, it is believed to be triggered by physical or emotional stress that releases abnormal levels of certain chemicals in the brain. This can change the way in which the central nervous system processes the pain, causing discomfort and excessive body ache.

To make it easy for a person to be able to distinguish between the two conditions, here are some points of differences:

Arthritis vs Fibromyalgia

Arthritis vs Fibromyalgia
Points of Difference Arthritis Fibromyalgia

Depending on the type of arthritis, the causes might differ:

  1. Wear and tear of bone cartilage
  2. Physical damage to the joints or bones
  3. Infection of an open wound that spreads to joints or bones
  4. Autoimmune diseases
  5. Obesity

The cause of fibromyalgia is still unclear. Many experts suggest it is a result of pain processing in the central nervous system. Some causes listed by them are:

  1. Abnormal pain messages
  2. Chemical imbalance in the brain
  3. Disturbed sleep patterns
  4. Genetics
Who is at Risk?

People who:-

  1. Are old
  2. Have a family history of arthritis
  3. Smoke regularly
  4. Are overweight

People who:-

  1. Are between the age of 30 and 50
  2. Suffering from rheumatoid arthritis
  3. Have a family history of fibromyalgia
  4. Have been through a lot of trauma in their lives (emotional or physical)
  5. Are suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  6. Aren’t physically active

And women (it occurs mainly in females).


Effect on the Body Arthritis can cause severe damage to the internal organs due to inflammation if not treated on time. Fibromyalgia does not affect any internal organs or bones. It just causes excessive pain.

Based on Inflammation

Arthritis causes inflammation which can permanently damage healthy tissues in the body. Fibromyalgia does not cause inflammation or swelling, so there is no actual.

Other Differences

Arthritis does not affect the nervous system and is not triggered by mental health issues.

Fibromyalgia changes how the brain perceives pain which affects the nervous system. It can be triggered by traumatic mental experiences.

How are Arthritis & Fibromyalgia Diagnosed?

The diagnosis majorly depends on how well a person defines the symptoms they are experiencing. It is very important to inform the doctor about medical issues, family history, and prescription medications that a person is taking to get a proper diagnosis.


Here are some tests that a healthcare provider might suggest:

  1. A physical exam to look for joint tenderness
  2. Blood tests to confirm inflammation (if any), such as erythrocyte sedimentation rate test, C-reactive protein test, etc.
  3. Imaging tests to look for joint damage and inflammation such as ultrasound, x-ray, etc.
  4. Auto-antibody tests such as rheumatoid factor antibody and anti-cyclic citrullinated peptide tests.


If a person continues to experience widespread pain in the body for 3 months accompanied with sleep disturbances, fatigue, difficulty in concentration, etc., he/she should seek medical attention as these indicate fibromyalgia. Since there are no medical tests to diagnose the disease, the doctor may evaluate the condition of a person by using some diagnostic tools that include:

  1. Widespread Pain Index (WPI)
  2. Symptom Severity Score

It can be confirmed that the person is suffering from fibromyalgia if the WPI score is:-

  1. 7 or more than 7, along with the symptom severity score being 5 or more than 5
  2. Between 3 to 6, and the symptom severity score is 9 or more than 9



The symptoms of arthritis can be reduced with certain medications such as:

  1. Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) like hydroxychloroquine, leflunomide, sulfasalazine, etc.
  2. IL 6 inhibitors 
  3. CD20 inhibitors 
  4. TNF inhibitors
  5. CD80/ CD86 inhibitors
  6. Janus kinase inhibitors (JAK)
  7. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)

For short term relief, the patient can also try:

  1. Physical or occupational therapy
  2. Exercise
  3. Massage
  4. Acupuncture
  5. Compression therapy


The following medications have shown results in easing the symptoms of the condition: 

  1. Amitriptyline
  2. Milnacipran (Savella)
  3. Duloxetine (Cymbalta)
  4. Pregabalin (Lyrica)

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is also suggested in certain cases to understand the negative behavioural pattern that may enhance the symptoms. One can also adapt to some lifestyle changes to improve their quality of life, such as:

  1. Regular exercise
  2. Proper sleep schedule
  3. Mindfulness activities such as yoga, massage, meditation, etc.


A medical professional can help you better understand the difference between the two conditions based on the symptoms. Even though both conditions can be hard to bear, the positive aspect is that they are curable with proper and consistent treatment. So, if you are experiencing any of the symptoms as mentioned in the article, consult your healthcare provider immediately to understand more about your condition and start timely treatment.


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Updated on : 29 August 2022

Disclaimer: The information provided here is for educational and learning purposes only. It doesn't cover every medical condition and might not be relevant to your personal situation. This information isn't medical advice, isn't meant for diagnosing any condition, and shouldn't replace talking to a certified medical or healthcare professional.


Dr. Aman Priya Khanna

Dr. Aman Priya Khanna

MBBS, DNB General Surgery, Fellowship in Minimal Access Surgery, FIAGES

12 Years Experience

Dr Aman Priya Khanna is a well-known General Surgeon, Proctologist and Bariatric Surgeon currently associated with HealthFort Clinic, Health First Multispecialty Clinic in Delhi. He has 12 years of experience in General Surgery and worke...View More


Rajath R Prabhu

Rajath R Prabhu

MSc. Clinical Research I PG Diploma in Public Health Services Management

3 Years Experience

His work in medical content writing and proofreading is noteworthy. He has also contributed immensely to public health research and has authored four scientific manuscripts in international journals. He was assoc...View More

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