Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Vs. Fibromyalgia: Learning the Differences

by Will Bozeman

Being tired all the time is a common complaint among many people. It’s something that can have a significant impact on your quality of life. After all, it can be challenging to maintain the same level of productivity and creativity when you are exhausted.

Many different things can cause fatigue; however, it can also be a symptom of either chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) or fibromyalgia — two medical conditions that are commonly confused with each other.

Although both conditions are characterized by extreme fatigue, there are differences between the two. Understanding the differences between CFS and fibromyalgia will help ensure that you get the correct diagnosis and treatment for your condition.

What Is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?

CFS is a complex disorder characterized by extreme mental and physical exhaustion. Symptoms must persist for more than six months to be diagnosed as chronic. It’s estimated that around three million Americans are affected by CFS.

Primary Related Symptoms

The following are the main symptoms that people with CFS experience:

  • Extreme exhaustion that isn’t alleviated by rest or sleep and that worsens following physical or mental exertion.
  • Cognitive difficulties, such as difficulty concentrating and memory problems.
  • Muscle or joint pain.
  • Dizziness, which worsens when moving from a lying, sitting, or standing position.
  • Sore throats or tender lymph nodes.
  • Sensitivity to light, noise, and odors.


The exact cause of CFS is still unknown. Still, some theories suggest it could be linked to an infection or hormonal imbalance. Other possible causes include a weakened immune system and psychological stress. Risk factors for developing CFS include age, gender, and lifestyle.

What Is Fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia is another condition characterized by widespread pain throughout the body and other symptoms. It’s estimated that around four million Americans are affected by fibromyalgia.

Primary Related Symptoms

The following are the primary symptoms of fibromyalgia:

  • Widespread pain and stiffness throughout the body.
  • Tingling and numbness in the feet and hands.
  • Fatigue and difficulty sleeping.
  • Anxiety and depression.
  • Sensitivity to temperature changes.
  • Cognitive difficulties, such as thinking, concentration, and memory problems.
  • Sensitivity to light and sound.
  • Digestive issues, such as nausea, bloating, and abdominal pain.


Like CFS, the exact cause of fibromyalgia is still unknown, but some theories suggest that it is related to a malfunction in how the brain processes pain signals. Other possible causes include genetic predisposition and psychological stress. Risk factors for fibromyalgia include a history of physical or emotional trauma, infections, hormonal imbalances, and certain medical conditions.

How Do Fibromyalgia And Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Relate To Each Other?

Fibromyalgia and CFS may appear similar due to certain factors, such as overlapping symptoms and difficulty in diagnosis. In fact, it is not uncommon for people to be misdiagnosed with one condition when they actually have the other. Not to mention, it is also possible for someone to have both fibromyalgia and CFS at the same time, which can present an even greater challenge in terms of diagnosis and treatment.

Overlapping Symptoms

Both fibromyalgia and CFS share many of the same symptoms, such as extreme exhaustion, cognitive difficulties, headaches, sensitivity to light and sound, muscle pain, joint pain, swollen lymph nodes, and digestive issues. This can be confusing for medical professionals when trying to differentiate between the two conditions.


Because the symptoms of fibromyalgia and CFS overlap, it is also possible for a person to have both conditions simultaneously. This is known as comorbidity. Comorbidities are challenging to diagnose and treat, as the symptoms of the two conditions can be intertwined.

Shared Underlying Mechanisms

Both fibromyalgia and CFS may be linked to similar underlying mechanisms, such as an infection or a hormonal imbalance. This means that treatments for the two conditions may overlap, such as medications for pain and fatigue.

Differential Diagnosis

The best way to differentiate between CFS and fibromyalgia is through a process known as differential diagnosis. During this process, the doctor will consider the patient’s medical history and symptoms, as well as any other conditions the patient may have. They will then do various diagnostic tests to rule out other possible conditions that could be causing the symptoms to narrow down to one or the other.

Individual Variability

It’s important to note that each person is unique and may experience different symptoms or a different level of severity. This means that the diagnosis and treatment of CFS and fibromyalgia can vary from person to person. You should talk to a medical professional about your own needs to get the right treatment for your specific condition.

The Key Differences Between Chronic Fatigue Syndrome And Fibromyalgia

Despite sharing similar symptoms, there are key differences between CFS and fibromyalgia. Understanding these differences is important to receive an accurate diagnosis and the most effective treatment for your condition.

  • Put a table of differences between the two conditions followed by an explanation in sentences of each of the differences.

Primary and Additional Symptoms

At first glance, the symptoms of CFS and fibromyalgia may appear to be the same. However, there are a few differences. First, the primary symptom of CFS is extreme exhaustion that is not improved with rest. Although fatigue can be a symptom of fibromyalgia, its primary symptom is widespread pain, which is also less common in CFS. 

Additionally, people with CFS may experience dizziness, something most people with fibromyalgia do not. On the other hand, feelings of numbness and tingling are more common in fibromyalgia.

The Criteria of the Diagnostic

In addition to ruling out other potential conditions, there are a few criteria for diagnosing each condition. The main criteria for CFS include severe fatigue that lasts at least six months, as well as several additional symptoms. On the other hand, the criteria for fibromyalgia are established by the American College of Rheumatology and include the following:

  • The widespread pain index (WPI) should be a seven, and the symptom severity (SS) scale score should be a five. Alternatively, the WPI equals three to six and the SS scale is a score of nine.
  • You have experienced symptoms of fibromyalgia at a similar level for at least three months.

The Fatigue and Pain Focus

The primary symptom of CFS is extreme fatigue, while fibromyalgia is focused on widespread body pain. This knowledge can help patients differentiate between the two conditions and helps to ensure the patient receives the most appropriate treatment.

Diagnosing Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Doctors will typically use a process called differential diagnosis to make an accurate diagnosis. This involves taking into account the patient’s medical history, their current symptoms, any other conditions they may have, and other factors. Doctors might also order tests such as blood or urine samples to rule out any other potential causes for the symptoms.

Treatment Options

Currently, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to treating fibromyalgia and CFS. This is because the current medical treatment available for both conditions is still not standardized. With that in mind, treatment for each condition typically involves a combination of different strategies. The following are some of the treatment solutions for both conditions:

Treatments for Fibromyalgia

The following are some of the ways in which medical professionals treat patients with fibromyalgia:

  • Medications: The main medications for fibromyalgia are antidepressants, such as Cymbalta and Effexor, and other pain relievers. These medications address symptoms like fatigue, pain, and depression. However, some of these medications can have serious side effects, so they should only be used with caution and under the supervision of a doctor. Additionally, they’re temporary solutions as they only help mask the symptoms and don’t provide long-term relief. 
  • Therapies: Cognitive-behavioral therapy and other forms of psychotherapy can help people with fibromyalgia better cope with their condition. These therapies can help patients understand their condition and how to best manage their symptoms. 
  • Alternative Treatments: Some people with fibromyalgia find relief through alternative treatments such as acupuncture, massage therapy, electrical stimulation, and yoga. These alternative treatments can help reduce pain and improve overall well-being.
  • Change of Habits and Lifestyle: Changing the diet, exercise routine, and sleeping habits can also help reduce your symptoms and improve your quality of life for those with fibromyalgia by addressing the underlying causes of this condition. For example, reducing stress and getting enough sleep can make a big difference in managing fibromyalgia by helping the body relax and function better.

Treatments for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

The following are some of the treatment options that medical professionals will prescribe to treat patients with CFS:

  • Medications: Medications used to treat CFS can help reduce symptoms such as fatigue and pain, and may also be used in conjunction with other treatments. Common medications used to treat CFS include antidepressants, pain relievers, and sleep aids. As with fibromyalgia, some of these medications can have serious side effects, so they should be used with caution and under the supervision of a doctor.
  • Therapies: Cognitive-behavioral therapies and other forms of psychotherapy can help people manage the psychological aspects of CFS. Additionally, certain relaxation techniques, such as meditation and yoga, can help reduce stress levels and improve your overall well-being.
  • Alternative Treatments: Alternative treatments such as acupuncture, massage therapy, herbs, and nutritional supplements may help alleviate some of the symptoms associated with CFS.
  • Change of Habits and Lifestyle: Making changes to your lifestyle, such as making sure you get enough sleep and reducing your stress, can also help manage CFS symptoms. Additionally, a balanced diet with lots of fruits and vegetables can provide essential nutrients for the body and help reduce fatigue.

Importance Of Tailored Treatment Approach To The Condition

Given the varying severity and causes of CFS and fibromyalgia, patients must find a tailored treatment plan to best address their needs. Each patient’s condition is unique, and the treatment plan must reflect this. Additionally, long-term management of these conditions is essential, as symptoms can often occur in cycles.

Neuragenex is dedicated to providing comprehensive care for people with chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia. Our team of experts can develop individualized treatment plans tailored to each patient’s needs. This includes a whole-person approach focusing on lifestyle habits, nutrition, exercise, and various drug-free, non-invasive treatment solutions, including electroanalgesia and IV therapy.


Electroanalgesia is a method of alleviating pain by utilizing a high-pulse electrical current. This technique aids in reducing discomfort, enhancing blood flow, increasing mobility, and promoting relaxation. 

By directing the electrical stimulation to the specific regions causing pain, the electrical stimulation “floods” the nervous system with high frequency external electrical pulses. This effectively interrupts the transmission of pain signals from the peripheral nerves (located outside the brain and spinal cord) to the brain. Referred to as neuromodulation, this process offers enduring pain relief.

IV Nutrition Therapy

IV nutritional therapy, also known as intravenous therapy, encompasses the delivery of essential nutrients directly into the bloodstream via an IV. This approach bypasses the digestive system and enables optimal absorption and utilization of nutrients within the body. Tailored to individual requirements, this treatment typically comprises a customized combination of vitamins, minerals, and amino acids.

Within the realm of Neurofunctional Pain Management, IV nutrition therapy holds immense potential for individuals enduring chronic pain as it tackles diverse underlying factors contributing to their condition.

Lifestyle Counseling

Lifestyle counseling encompasses a method of addressing chronic pain by recognizing, evaluating, and adjusting lifestyle elements that contribute to an individual’s discomfort. Various factors like nutrition, physical activity, stress, sleep quality and duration, and alcohol intake can all influence a person’s symptoms.

By means of lifestyle counseling and educational initiatives on health promotion and disease prevention, patients can enhance their comprehension of their condition, cultivate constructive coping mechanisms, and implement behavioral modifications to effectively diminish and manage their pain. These adjustments may include dietary alterations, heightened physical activity, or acquiring stress management skills and relaxation techniques.

Understand Your Condition to Find The Best Solution

Fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome are complex conditions with many overlapping symptoms. While both share similar characteristics, it is vital to understand the differences to manage each condition effectively. An accurate diagnosis is crucial for finding the right treatment plan. 

At Neuragenex, we are dedicated to helping people suffering from fatigue, whether it’s due to CFS or fibromyalgia. We offer comprehensive care and tailored treatment plans designed to provide long-term relief from pain, fatigue, and other symptoms by addressing the root cause of your condition using drug-free, non-invasive treatment solutions.

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