By Heidi Moawad, MD | Medically reviewed by a board-certified physician |
Fibromyalgia is a challenging disease to cope with. It often takes years for a diagnosis and once you are told that you have fibromyalgia, you might be faced with skepticism from people at work, from your family or from your social community. Adding to the challenges of living with fibromyalgia, it is a disease that has no definitive cure.
Fibromyalgia can produce a variety of symptoms that affect multiple systems of the body. And, fibromyalgia can also manifest with stroke-like symptoms. Living with recurrent neurological problems may be aggravating, if not frightening.
But, even though fibromyalgia can cause stroke-like symptoms, people with fibromyalgia can experience strokes, just like everybody else. This is why, if you have fibromyalgia, you need to be able to recognize the signs of a stroke so that, if you ever experience a stroke or a TIA you can act fast and stop it in its tracks before it is too late.
Fibromyalgia and Stroke-like Symptoms
A number of the symptoms of fibromyalgia are similar to the signs of a stroke. But, nevertheless, there are some clues that can help you determine whether the symptoms you are experiencing are more likely related to fibromyalgia or a sign of a stroke. Most stroke symptoms include weakness, loss of vision or impairment of consciousness. Fibromyalgia is predominantly associated with pain and fatigue. However, there is some overlap.
A research study published in the April 2014 European Journal of Physical and Rehabilitative Medicine evaluated the postural balance of fibromyalgia sufferers and documented a distinct impairment of posture control related to pain and weakness.
Stroke can also be characterized by dizziness and loss of balance, and therefore the symptoms may be similar. The dizziness of stroke is typically somewhat disorienting and overwhelming, while the postural instability of fibromyalgia is milder and often very specific to one part of the body, rather than an overwhelming sensation.
It is important to get medical attention right away for some types of dizziness. Read more about when you should worry about dizziness.
Another research study measured objective elements of the speech and voice of individuals who had fibromyalgia. The study determined that fibromyalgia can cause objective speech and voice deficits for some people. Slurred speech or difficulty producing or understanding speech is one of the hallmark symptoms of a stroke.
The biggest difference between the speech changes in fibromyalgia and the speech changes in stroke is that the changes in fibromyalgia are gradual and do not interfere with the understanding of language, while the speech impairments characteristic of stroke are usually sudden and interfere with verbal communication and understanding.
Studies show that people living with fibromyalgia experience memory decline and confusion at a higher rate than people without fibromyalgia. A stroke can cause severe confusion and sudden trouble with behavior and memory. The difference is that most of the time, someone living with fibromyalgia notices a progressive memory decline, while a stroke causes the sudden onset of severe confusion that a stroke victim might be too unwell to notice.
Dropping objects due impaired coordination or weakness signals a stroke. However, severe pain, which occurs frequently in fibromyalgia, can make you unable to hold or carry objects or even to lift your arm or walk. Additionally, fibromyalgia can cause weakness of the face, arms or legs. Typically, the weakness of fibromyalgia can be related to fatigue or exhaustion or overuse, while the weakness of a stroke is not related to physical exhaustion.
When weakness is sudden or severe, urgent medical attention is necessary to determine whether a serious and life-threatening problem, such as a stroke, needs to be urgently treated.
If you suffer from fibromyalgia, you already know that you will experience pain. However, loss of sensation or tingling can occur with fibromyalgia as well. These are also the most ignored signs of stroke, and therefore it is important to establish whether symptoms of sensory loss are, in fact, strokes or TIAs.
Fibromyalgia and Stroke
In the absence of other strong stroke risk factors like heart disease, high cholesterol, and hypertension, there is usually no specific reason to take medication such as blood thinners to reduce the risk of a stroke. If you have fibromyalgia, your best protection against a stroke is to be familiar with the signs of a stroke and to pay attention to stroke prevention, which consists, in large part, of healthy living.