Fibromyalgia is often misdiagnosed as a number of other illnesses. Though fibro has its own unique set of diagnostic criteria, many of its symptoms can mimic symptoms of other conditions – both physical and mental, acute and chronic.
One of the most common conditions fibromyalgia gets mistaken for is depression. While each condition causes a unique set of symptoms, many of them may overlap. Like fibro, depression can cause physical symptoms such as pain, fatigue and brain fog. And living with a chronic physical symptoms can have significant effects on your mood, sometimes causing feelings of hopelessness, anxiety or general discontent – which are also symptoms of depression.
So how do you tell the two apart?
Though many of those with fibro may have a gut feeling that the health issues they’re facing are more of a “physical illness” than a “mental illness,” it can be tough to explain why. So, we asked our Mighty community to share a sign that indicated they had fibromyalgia and not depression, or that they had fibromyalgia in addition to depression.
Of course, every individual may experience each condition differently – so the way one person can tell apart symptoms of fibro and depression may vary from another. But, if you’re struggling to figure out what’s going on in your body (or explain it to your doctor!), hopefully the following experiences from our community can provide some guidance. An accurate diagnosis can help you get the treatment you need.
Here’s what our community shared with us:
1. “I have both but the constant tension and pain I’ve had in my neck/back and shoulders since I was a teen. I couldn’t figure out why carrying my bag/purses wore me down so much more than my peers. Chiropractors/massage therapists and physiotherapist barely even help with the pain.” – Allison M.
2. “Sleeping. My depression may hinder me from falling asleep most nights, but the absolute pain I’m in that constantly wakes me up during the night is all fibro. I can’t stay on one side longer than just a few minutes before the bed feels like it’s bruising me. It’s excruciating.” – Joni W.
3. “Sensory issues: bright lights, loud noises, etc. Gets overwhelming and makes a flare come on.” – Laura A.
4. “The pain moves, it’s not just one spot. When I am depressed it’s just my lower back.” – Amanda V.
5. “For me it was the extreme jaw pain and tinnitus that started randomly one day and I was suddenly so exhausted and got horrible headaches that made me unable to do anything. I had been having the best semester of my life and suddenly couldn’t get out of bed. Based off the severity of the pain and the fact that I never had mental health problems before I got so sick, the rheumatologist determined it was fibro and not depression. Also the fact that my symptoms were still present whenever I pushed myself to do something that usually made me happy, and instead it made me feel worse. Before this, I would turn to running if I was having a tough day emotionally and the endorphins would make it a little better. But now, exercise of any form makes me too exhausted to do anything and gives me a bad headache, which my doctor said is a sign that it’s fibro not depression.” – Annie F.
6. “Extreme sensitivity to touch. A hug or even a light touch on my skin is often painful.” – Shonna K.
7. “The month I got engaged I was on cloud nine, so happy and excited to be able to spend the rest of my life with someone I love. The day I actually got engaged I still had to go back to where we were staying and have my medication and sort myself out, my hips and legs were in bits. I was still very happy though! So it just showed me no matter how many times doctors fobbed me off with mental health [diagnoses] I knew I wasn’t ‘going crazy’ thinking it’s all in my head. – Chloé L.A.
8. “Despite my fibro pain attacking my nerves, joints and muscles, I fight every day to still live my life the way I want to but depression makes me want to just shut down and escape, not fight back.” – Jennifer N.H.
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9. “When only my fibro is flaring I have no guilt. I’m sad, angry, hopeless and any number of horrible feelings but I never feel guilty about my limitations unless I’m depressed.” – Linda C.
10. “Not being able to stand up, or needing help standing up.” – Dolly D.
11. “Pain. I had dull pain head to toe. I couldn’t do what I loved because of the pain. I had severe brain fog to the point of forgetting how to hold a fork. It doesn’t feel like depression because there is that extra factor. You feel just enough off at first that you know it isn’t ‘just’ depression.” – Eloise T.
12. “Take a log of your symptoms – even when you’re feeling good are you still sore all the time and tired? Do you have any other issues like migraines, sensory issues, dysmenorrhea, IBS and more? Do you have difficulty with things like being picked up, or people massaging you around your pressure points? Is that pain unbearable? I was treated as depression, then anxiety, then both with pain as a ‘side effect’ for a very long time.” – Karla P.
13. “The lack of energy from poor exhaustion. And the sleep problems. When I say I have insomnia everyone assumes it’s because I am depressed.” – Marzi S.H.H.
14. “I have both, and while I have seen many symptoms in common, I think the biggest ones are the types of pain and the type of fatigue. Depression made all my limbs feel tense and sore, but the random and persistent stabbing pains, the joint pain and the nerve pain didn’t start until I had more symptoms of fibro. Depression left me feeling emotionally fatigued – every task feels like it’ll take too much out of me, and all I wanted to do was sleep. Fibro leaves me completely fatigued – when my body demands rest now, I’m physically incapable of staying upright and/or awake.” – R Shay H.
15. “Sensitive to touch. I knew it was fibro the second it hurt for my kids to hug me.” – Shayla F.W.
16. “Tingling of my spinal cord area especially, the cervical and thoracic area, BMS or burning mouth syndrome, extremely sensitive to some types of voice pitches, alternating /acute stabbing pain on souls of feet, vertigo, fatigue, sensitive to light, leg cramps, bruising…” – Waleska L.
17. “Starting at 34 after remodeling our home, I suffered from chronic migraines for the next 10 years, and they finally found a med combination that reduced the migraine frequency to something manageable. But I still had a lot a issues that I had previously blamed on the migraines or medications, that continued… I’d do physical labor for a few hours, and the agonizing pain afterwards would last for days. At night, my skin would burn from the inside. A good night’s sleep became a memory, and fatigue a daily occurrence. Stabbing pains would randomly appear in various areas of my body. IBS took over my life, I didn’t dare eat or drink when I left the house, for fear of triggering a potty emergency. I did a ton of research, and fibromyalgia was the only thing that seemed to fit… I remember when a specialist listened to all my puzzling symptoms, and then gave me a number to call – a psychiatrist for my ‘depression.’ Because men couldn’t have fibromyalgia, it was a ‘women’s’ issue. I ended up calling the psychiatrist just for fun, and described my issues, and asked if he thought I was suffering from some form of psychosomatic depression. No, he thought it sounded like some sort of ‘myalgia,’ and suggested a different doctor… I eventually got a diagnosis of fibromyalgia after many months of testing and specialists, even though I was a man.” – Christopher H.