Rheumatoid Arthritis vs. Fibromyalgia

Medically Reviewed on 2/16/2022

Facts you should know about rheumatoid arthritis (RA) vs. fibromyalgia

A person with pain in the hand
A person suffers from hand pain due to fibromyalgia and arthritis.

What is rheumatoid arthritis?

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease that causes chronic inflammation of the joints. Autoimmune diseases are illnesses that occur when the body's tissues are mistakenly attacked by their own immune system by an abnormal, misdirected immune system response. Inflammation of the joints and tissue around the joints are characteristic features of rheumatoid arthritis that are caused by the autoimmune process. Because it can affect multiple other organs of the body, RA is referred to as a systemic illness (in fact, sometimes it is referred to as rheumatoid disease).

What is fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia syndrome is a chronic pain condition that affects 4% of people in the United States. Many patients experience pain all over their body. Sleep that is not restful is another hallmark of fibromyalgia, causing chronic fatigue. While patients with fibromyalgia may feel as though their joints, muscles, tendons, and tissues are inflamed, measurable levels of inflammation in blood testing are normal. Fibromyalgia can be very painful and greatly affect a patient's quality of life in many ways, but it does not cause damage to organs or joints.


The term arthritis refers to stiffness in the joints. See Answer

What are signs and symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia?

The defining feature of rheumatoid arthritis symptoms are  

  • joint inflammation, which causes joint pain, swelling, and redness.
  • The swelling is present for more than 6 weeks and is usually on both sides of the body in the same joint (for example in both wrists).

The defining features of fibromyalgia are fatigue with widespread pain and tenderness. Patients with fibromyalgia may have many other symptoms as well, including

What are home remedies and treatment options for rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia?

  • The treatment of fibromyalgia always involves getting enough sleep, exercising, and stress reduction.
  • Medications can be used to treat fibromyalgia pain as well as improve sleep.
  • Getting enough sleep, exercising, and stress reduction are also very important in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis.
  • However, medications are necessary to reduce joint inflammation and prevent joint damage.
  • Without treatment, RA grows progressively worse and damages joints.
  • There are many medications that have been proven to slow or stop the course of rheumatoid arthritis.

What are causes and risk factors of rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia?

The causes of rheumatoid arthritis are partially genetic and partially environmental. Certain genes predispose people to developing rheumatoid arthritis, and that is why it runs strongly in some families. Environmental risk factors for RA include cigarette smoking and female sex.

Fibromyalgia is in part genetic and can be triggered by stressful events. The stressful event can be physical, such as a car accident, or emotional. The chronic pain of autoimmune diseases such as RA and systemic lupus erythematosus can sometimes trigger fibromyalgia.

What tests do health care professionals use to make a diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia?

Rheumatoid arthritis is diagnosed based on persistent joint inflammation for more than 6 weeks. Blood tests are commonly abnormal in rheumatoid arthritis, including the erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) inflammation level, and rheumatoid factor (RF), and citrulline antibody (anti-CCP antibody).

The diagnosis of fibromyalgia is made based on symptoms of chronic widespread pain and fatigue and signs of widespread tenderness. Many people have both rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia, but fibromyalgia does not cause rheumatoid arthritis or progress into it.

What is the prognosis of rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia?

The prognosis of fibromyalgia is very good, in that people with fibromyalgia do not suffer damage to their joints, muscles, or organs. However, fibromyalgia pain is chronic and improves with lifestyle changes and medications to a manageable level.

There have been tremendous advances in the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis in the past decade, and many medications are now available to stop or slow the disease. Currently, the goal of treatment is low disease activity or disease remission, where patients have few or no swollen and tender joints and low systemic inflammation blood levels.

Is it possible to prevent rheumatoid arthritis or fibromyalgia?

There is no known prevention of rheumatoid arthritis or fibromyalgia. Living a healthy lifestyle, eating healthy foods (including vegetables, fruits, whole grains, and lean meats), getting plenty of sleep, not drinking excessive alcohol, not smoking tobacco, and not using drugs may help the body function at its best.

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Medically Reviewed on 2/16/2022
"Fibromyalgia." American College of Rheumatology. Dec. 2021. <https://www.rheumatology.org/I-Am-A/Patient-Caregiver/Diseases-Conditions/Fibromyalgia>.

"Rheumatoid Arthritis." American College of Rheumatology. Dec. 2021. <https://www.rheumatology.org/I-Am-A/Patient-Caregiver/Diseases-Conditions/Rheumatoid-Arthritis>.