It’s cold and flu season again. And if you’re living with fibromyalgia, this time of year can be especially trying. That’s because two of the most common fibromyalgia symptoms are all-over musculoskeletal pain and fatigue — feelings similar to those experienced with a bad cold or the flu. In fact, about half of patients with fibromyalgia experience a “flu-like” illness that precedes the development of their symptoms.
So how do you know if you’ve come down with the flu, or if your aches and pains are due to fibromyalgia? There are important differences that can clue you in, including:
Fibromyalgia doesn’t cause fevers. “Some patients will say that their temperature is consistently a little higher or lower,” says Kim Jones, PhD, an associate professor at the Oregon Health and Science University in Portland and head of the Fibromyalgia Information Foundation. But spikes in fever from fighting off an infection are not due to fibromyalgia.
Fibromyalgia doesn’t cause coughs and congestion. Classic cold symptoms, such as coughs, sniffles, a runny nose, and a sore throat, are not fibromyalgia symptoms.
Protect Yourself With the Flu Vaccine
It’s easier to avoid the flu than to deal with it, but many people with fibromyalgia worry that a flu shot will trigger a flare-up of fibromyalgia symptoms. According to the Arthritis Foundation, there is no known link between vaccines and fibromyalgia. Although some studies have suggested fibromyalgia may be linked to vaccines for rubella or Lyme disease, there’s not much research to back these claims up.
If you’re concerned about possible reactions to flu vaccine, anything that develops will probably be milder and short-lived compared with 10 days of the flu. Getting a yearly flu shot is also advised for people who fall into any of the following groups:
50 or older
Those who have other chronic health problems, such as diabetes or compromised immunity
Those who care for vulnerable populations, such as young children or older adults
Talk with your doctor about whether you need to be vaccinated against pneumonia as well.
Coping With Flus and Colds
If you do get sick this cold and flu season, here’s how to help yourself feel better:
Drink fluids. Staying well hydrated is important for feeling your best with fibromyalgia, but it’s even more important during dry winter months and when you’re trying to fight off or manage a dehydrating fever.
Take acetaminophen (Tylenol). If you want to ease the aches and pains of fibromyalgia or flu symptoms or the soreness of a vaccination, take acetaminophen instead of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), which have not been shown to relieve fibromyalgia symptoms and can cause more gastrointestinal discomfort.
Treat your symptoms. Colds and flu are viral illnesses, so antibiotics won’t help. But there are ways you can treat your symptoms in order to feel better. If you are taking prescription medications for fibromyalgia or other health conditions, make sure you check with your doctor or read labels to avoid any negative interactions with cough and cold medications.
Practice infection prevention. Wash your hands often, or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer, and minimize your contact with people who are sick. Fibromyalgia is not a condition of low immunity, but it’s good to avoid exposure to illness whenever possible.
Finally, if you’re confused about when to contact your doctor, follow this advice from Jones: “New headaches that are different from any in the past, and new symptoms that have not been experienced by you in the last few months, are worth running by your health care provider.”