Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) and fibromyalgia are often poorly understood diseases that may be confused with one another. In the medical community they're generally acknowledged to be two separate conditions, but many experts believe they are nevertheless part of the same underlying disorder. In fact, it's not uncommon for sufferers to be diagnosed with both CFS and fibromyalgia. As some of the symptoms overlap, how can you tell these two illnesses apart?

  • Pain. This is the primary characteristic of fibromyalgia. A fibromyalgia sufferer will typically experience pain in a variety of spots. The pain, which is muscular in nature, occurs on both sides of the body and is continuous. Additionally, fibromyalgia causes extra pain when so-called "tender points" are pressed. These tender points can be at the back of the head, between the shoulder blades, on the sides of the neck, on the chest, on the sides of the hips, or on the inner knees. Chronic fatigue sufferers may experience muscle pain, but it is not the defining symptom of their condition.
  • Fatigue. As its name suggests, fatigue is the hallmark of chronic fatigue syndrome. To be diagnosed with CFS, a person will have to suffer severe fatigue that is not relieved by rest for at least six months. This fatigue can be overwhelming and interfere with daily activities. CFS sufferers also frequently experience memory impairment, sore throats, enlarged lymph glands, and headaches.

Other symptoms that people with CFS and fibromyalgia may share include trouble sleeping, headaches, difficulty with memory, and depression.

Doctors are unsure why people get CFS and fibromyalgia. Adding to the mystery of these two diseases, there's no definitive test for diagnosis. Diagnosis is made after careful consideration of clinical symptoms and the ruling out of other possible diseases that might be causing symptoms.

Treatment for both conditions focuses on reducing pain and/or fatigue. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications may be prescribed for pain, while antidepressants can help reduce the emotional effects of living with chronic discomfort. Self-care is important, too. Although it may be difficult at times, getting regular exercise is as important as resting. A physical therapist can design a program that will challenge sufferers without exhausting them. Quality sleep can diminish symptoms, so patients should focus on going to bed at the same time each night. In addition, the room should be kept dark and earplugs may be worn to shut out noise. Sufferers may discover that joining a support group or consulting with a mental-health provider can help them deal with stress and frustration.



Centers for Disease Control,

Arthritis Foundation,