MS vs. Fibromyalgia: Differences and Similarities

Medically Reviewed by Christopher Melinosky, MD on November 27, 2022
3 min read

Multiple sclerosis (MS) and fibromyalgia have some similarities. Both are lifelong diseases. There’s no cure. They’re also more common in women. But each affects your body differently.

MS is an autoimmune disease. That’s when your body’s immune system mistakenly attacks itself. It affects the brain and spinal cord, and it often gets worse over time. MS can permanently damage your nerves.

Fibromyalgia causes pain and stiffness all over your body, along with other symptoms. Doctors aren’t sure what triggers it. They think it might have something to do with how your brain processes pain. Here’s what we know.

Fatigue, or feeling tired all the time, is a common symptom of MS and fibromyalgia. Other similarities include:

Age. They can happen at any time. MS starts most often between the ages of 20-40. It’s about the same for people with fibromyalgia.

Family history. Your chances of getting MS or fibromyalgia are higher if your mom or dad has it.

Autoimmune conditions. Both are more likely if you have a condition that affects your immune system. Fibromyalgia is more common in people with rheumatoid arthritis or lupus. MS is more common in people with thyroid disease, psoriasis, or type 1 diabetes.

Infection or illness. MS has been linked to certain viral infections. They might be a risk factor for fibromyalgia, too.

MS most often affects your ability to move. Other symptoms include:

  • Numbness or weakness in one or more arms or legs
  • Trouble with coordination or balance
  • Prickling or tingling sensations
  • Tremors
  • Dizziness
  • Vision loss
  • Blurred or double vision
  • Slurred speech
  • Fatigue

Some people with MS also have:

Fibromyalgia generally doesn’t affect movement. The main symptom is pain and stiffness all over the body. People sometimes say it feels like a dull ache that won’t go away. Other symptoms include:

Some people with fibromyalgia also have:

  • Numbness or tingling in the hands or feet
  • Jaw pain
  • Digestive problems

Most people with MS have the relapsing-remitting type. That means that symptoms will come and go or worsen and then get better. In about half of people with this type of MS, symptoms gradually get worse over time. Treatment can slow progression and reduce other symptoms.

Fibromyalgia doesn’t tend to get worse over time, but it doesn’t usually go away. The pain and other symptoms, such as trouble sleeping, can make it hard to work and enjoy life.

There are no specific tests for MS. Doctors diagnose it based mainly on your symptoms. They’ll rule out other conditions first. You’ll probably get an MRI. Your doctor may order these tests, too:

The type of doctor you’ll see depends on which condition you have. Neurologists (doctors who specialize in the nervous system) usually diagnose and treat people with MS. Primary care doctors and rheumatologists (doctors who specialize in joints, muscles, and other tissues) typically treat people with fibromyalgia.

Doctors also look at your symptoms when diagnosing this condition. You may have fibromyalgia if you’ve had widespread pain for more than 3 months and your doctor can’t find another reason.

Medications can ease your symptoms as well as help you recover from attacks and slow the disease’s progression. Some you take by mouth or get as a shot. Others you get through an IV.

Other medicines used to treat MS symptoms include:

There are drugs specifically approved to treat fibromyalgia and help you manage symptoms. Your doctor may try different treatments to see which ones work for you. These include antidepressants and anti-seizure medication. Your doctor may also prescribe pain relievers.