By: Wyatt Redd
Many people with fibromyalgia have a story of struggling to get diagnosed. Though we are making progress every day, many doctors still aren’t that familiar with fibromyalgia. And to make matters worse, the symptoms of fibromyalgia are often so similar to other conditions that it can be hard for even knowledgeable doctors to know which condition their patients might be suffering from.
For instance, many patients with muscular dystrophy find themselves being misdiagnosed with fibromyalgia and vice versa.
So, when you go into a doctor’s office to seek a diagnosis, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with some of the other conditions that can mimic the symptoms of fibromyalgia. With that in mind, let’s talk about what muscular dystrophy is and how you can tell the difference between it and fibromyalgia.
What Is Muscular Dystrophy?
There’s really no single muscular dystrophy. Instead, muscular dystrophies are more than 30 different genetic disorders that produce similar symptoms. Most significantly, they lead to a gradual weakening and degeneration of the muscles.
The most common form of muscular dystrophy is a condition called Duchenne muscular dystrophy, or DMD. DMD is passed from parent to child along the X chromosome. The X and Y chromosomes determine the biological sex of a child. Girls have two X chromosomes and boys an X and a Y.
DMD is contained in the X chromosome, but usually only in one. And because girls have two XX chromosomes, they are much less likely to have DMD. But boys, who only have one x chromosome, will usually develop the condition if they inherit it.
Usually, the symptoms become noticeable between the ages of 3 and 5. From there, it progresses rapidly. People who suffer from the condition are unable to produce enough of a protein that maintains the muscle. And as a result, they gradually lose the ability to walk. And eventually, even to breathe on their own.
While Duchenne is the most common form of MD, it’s not the only one.
Another common form is facioscapulohumeral muscular dystrophy. FSHD mainly affects the muscles in the face, arms, and lower legs. It usually begins in the early 20s, and it can progress slowly over years or decades. Unlike other forms of MD, it usually doesn’t have a significant impact on the heart or lungs. And people with FSHD typically live a normal lifespan.
The severity of FSHD can vary from person to person. For some, it can be debilitating.
But the most common form of adult MD is Myotonic MD. It leads to muscle spasms, cataracts, and problems with the endocrine system. Because it’s a genetic disorder, people with the condition tend to be born with a few different physical signs of the condition. Usually, they have long, thin faces, as well as long necks.
There’s no cure for any of the forms of muscular dystrophy. But there are forms of treatment. Usually, the treatment focuses on dealing with the effects of the disease so that patients can live as normal a life as possible.
There are several different technologies that can help keep patients with advanced MD alive, like respirators that can help keep their lungs functioning. And many patients go through intensive physical therapy so that they can learn to live with weakening muscles.
Of course, treatment requires a diagnosis. And when it comes to MD, like fibromyalgia, that can be difficult.
Muscular Dystrophy And Fibromyalgia
Fibromyalgia and muscular dystrophy can produce similar symptoms. Both lead to weakness in the muscles, spasms, and pain with no obvious cause. This means that getting a diagnosis can be difficult. It’s easy for doctors to get the two conditions confused at first.
But there are a few things that set the conditions apart.
First, fibromyalgia’s most distinct feature is the fact that it causes pain in 18 specific tender points. These points are located in the joints of the body and are often more painful when pressure is applied to them.
And doctors can use these tender points to make a diagnosis. Typically, a doctor presses their thumb into the tender points. If the pain spikes in all of the tender points, then there’s a good chance the patient is suffering from fibromyalgia.
This is different than MD, which doesn’t cause pain at specific points. And a diagnosis for MD is usually more complicated. It requires biopsies of the muscles and genetic testing to look for signs of the disease.
The easiest way to know which condition you’re suffering from is to look for the tender points. Your doctor should be able to give you a diagnosis if you have them.
So, what do you think? Have you suffered from MD? Is there a link between MD and fibromyalgia? Tell us in the comments.