Fibromyalgia symptoms vs. depression symptoms: Just how similar are the symptoms of these conditions anyways?

After all, both cause pain, and both can cause brain fog and fatigue.

Fibromyalgia can leave a person feeling very depressed—after the fact. And it’s possible to have both these conditions, independent of each other.

“These are two very different conditions,” says Jacob Teitelbaum, MD, medical director of the Fibromyalgia and Fatigue Centers nationally, and author of “The Fatigue and Fibromyalgia Solution.”

Depression can be primary, or secondary, i.e., the result of a disabling illness. One in eight people with fibromyalgia have secondary depression, says Dr. Teitelbaum.

“But they are two separate processes, and therefore do need  to be addressed separately,” he further explains.

“The problem usually occurs when physicians mistakenly blame the fibromyalgia symptoms on depression, trying to invalidate the person’s illness.

“This is the same as telling somebody with metastatic cancer that they’re just depressed – and then trying to convince the family that the person is crazy and denying them health and disability benefits because of this. It is not only incorrect and unethical, but it is also abusive.”

Symptoms of fibromyalgia

Body-wide pain, sleeping difficulties, considerable exhaustion and even some compromise of mental function.

These symptoms can also describe severe primary depression. In fact, they can also describe low thyroid!

However, a diagnosis of low thyroid can easily be made or ruled out with a blood test.

Can you tell the difference between depression and fibromyalgia?

“Depression is usually associated with sadness and lack of interests,” says Dr. Teitelbaum. “Fibromyalgia is usually associated with many interests, but with frustration over lack of ability to do them,” he continues.

“Biochemically, they are also very different.” An example is that “cortisol levels are usually high in depression, but tend to be low in fibromyalgia.”

Cortisol is a stress hormone.

“Overall, they are very different conditions, but which may both be present in the same person.”

Dr. Teitelbaum is a board certified internist and nationally known expert in the fields of fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, sleep and pain.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.