Do Your Joints Swell With Fibromyalgia?

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Fibromyalgia, also known as FMS (fibromyalgia syndrome), is one of more than 100 rheumatic diseases. This chronic condition is often misunderstood, making you frustrated. With the disease, you can have pain and tenderness throughout the body, including the joints. It can cause symptoms similar to those of arthritis. But do your joints also swell with FMS?

Understanding rheumatic diseases

Rheumatic diseases are a group of disorders that mainly affect the joints and muscles – also sometimes the ligaments, tendons, bones, or even organs. In general, these diseases are characterized by inflammation that usually occurs in the supporting /connecting structures of the body.

There are many types of rheumatic disease. The main ones are as follows:

  1. Osteoarthritis, the most common type of arthritis. Typically, it is the result of wear and tear of the joints – being older is often to blame, though not always.
  2. Rheumatoid arthritis, another prevalent type of arthritis. Unlike osteoarthritis, there is no wear and tear but the abnormality of immune system is the main culprit. See also the differences between rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis in here!
  3. Other types of arthritis such as gout, psoriatic arthritis, reactive arthritis, and infectious arthritis.
  4. Systemic, simply lupus. It is a disorder in which the body immune system goes awry and causes systemic inflammation that affects numerous parts /organs of the body such as the skin, joints, blood, heart, lungs, kidneys, and even brain.
  5. Ankylosing spondylitis, which is a spine disease that mainly affects the sacroiliac joints that attach the spine to the pelvis. Sometimes it may also affect shoulders, hips, or knees. In most cases it affects young people, especially young men (younger than age 30).
  6. Sjogren’s syndrome, an autoimmune condition that can cause parts of the body (such as the mouth and eyes) to dry out.
  7. Other types of rheumatic disease include fibromyalgia, bursitis, scleroderma, polymyalgia rheumatica, and polymyositis.

Interestingly though fibromyalgia belongs to a group of rheumatic diseases, it doesn’t present like most inflammatory conditions. For example, anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs and corticosteroids) are frequently ineffective at soothing the symptoms. Furthermore, inflammatory markers that are commonly high in other inflammatory diseases (such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus) often look normal or just ‘slightly’ high in fibromyalgia.

A number of factors /conditions can put you at high risk of having one or more rheumatic diseases. For examples:

  1. Genetic and environmental factors. In some cases, having certain gene variants increase the risk, and certain factors in the environment may trigger & stimulate the onset of the disease.
  2. Being older. Age is a risk factor of some types of rheumatic diseases, especially osteoarthritis.
  3. Women are more likely to develop fibromyalgia, lupus, scleroderma, and rheumatoid arthritis. Other types of rheumatic diseases such as ankylosing spondylitis and gout are more common in men.
  4. Lifestyle factors such as poor diet, obesity, and smoking.

Do joints swell with fibromyalgia (FMS)?

A swollen joint occur if you have an increase of fluid in the tissues around your joint. The symptoms may vary, but the main ones include; swollen in the affected area, stiffness, more sensitive /warm to touch, deep-aching pain, and difficulty to move the affected joint.

Fibromyalgia and joint pain

FMS is characterized by widespread muscle and tissue pain throughout the body, as noted before. But can your joints get swelled with the disease?

Fibromyalgia usually doesn’t cause swollen joints. Also, it’s possible to have pain or other discomforts in your joints, but the disease will not damage the affected joints.

Unlike joint pain of arthritis, again fibromyalgia pain is not only in the joint but also felt over the entire body (widespread). You usually have painful tender points (typically hurt /more sensitive to touch or when pressed with a finger) along with the deep body aches and muscle soreness.

The way of how the pain behaves can vary. Sometimes it comes and goes, or lasts for months. It can be dull, deep, aching, throbbing, or sharp. The muscle and tissue pain can also be sore, tender, burning, or even gnawing – according to the Arthritis Foundation.

And experts believe that joint pain associated with fibromyalgia is about muscles and tissues around the joints that hurt rather than the joints themselves. So the disease actually doesn’t hurt your joints and will not lead to deformity /disability.

Though the disease doesn’t reduce range of your joint movement, the symptoms can make it more difficult to keep productive at work or function at home. When the disease flares up, it can affect the quality of sleep and interfere with your daily task! The frustration of dealing with the symptoms can also result in a number of psychological problems such as stress, depression, and anxiety.

Self-care is very essential to cope with the disease. If necessary, some medications are available to help soothe the symptoms.

Can people with fibromyalgia have swollen joint?

In fact, sometimes the disease can co-exist with another condition. Since swollen joints usually have nothing to do with fibromyalgia, it could be caused by something else (see a doctor for accurate diagnosis).

For examples, a swollen joint in people with fibromyalgia could be caused by the following health conditions:

Rheumatoid arthritis

There are a number of health conditions that can co-exist with fibromyalgia, making it more difficult to cope with the problem. Some of the common ones are as follows:

  1. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), also known as ‘spastic colon’.
  2. Painful bladder syndrome such as interstitial cystitis.
  3. Temporomandibular joint disorder. As the name suggests, it affects temporomandibular joints that connect the jawbone to the skull.
  4. Migraine or other headaches.

How about rheumatoid arthritis? This inflammatory arthritis can affect people of all ages, including those who have fibromyalgia. Even rheumatoid arthritis may have a role to increase the risk of developing fibromyalgia.

According to the Arthritis Foundation, many people with rheumatoid arthritis (about 30 percent) will develop fibromyalgia. Some experts believe that the two conditions may be intricately linked.

The affected joints in rheumatoid arthritis often become painful, very stiff, and swollen. Since it’s an autoimmune disease, it can affect the entire body. If it’s poorly controlled, the systemic inflammation of the disease can turn into serious or even life-threatening.

Other types of rheumatic diseases

Rheumatoid arthritis is not the only one. As mentioned earlier, it’s possible to have more than one rheumatic disease. Though no one knows exactly why, some types of rheumatic disease that share similar risk factors are often to blame.

Other rheumatic diseases that can also cause swollen joints include osteoarthritis, gout, psoriatic arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, and infectious arthritis.

Joint injuries

Sometimes, swollen joint can be caused by joint injuries such as strains, sprains, or dislocations – also injured tendons, muscles, and ligaments that surround the joints. And anyone can have joint injuries, including people with fibromyalgia.

Swollen joint treatment is dependent on the underlying cause (not all cases are treated the same way). Therefore accurate diagnosis is important to treat the problem effectively.

Citations /references:

  1. Arthritis Foundation: “Fibromyalgia: What are the Effects?”


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