Many hands holding out different types of fruit. There are overlapping apples, oranges, and pears.

The Similarities of Chronic Illnesses

Last updated: June 2021

As I’ve been writing about living with Multiple Sclerosis for several years now (wow, time really does fly), I’ve grown accustomed to talking to folks who don’t actually suffer from it. No, I’m not referring to friends, family, or caregivers of those with MS, rather, I’m talking about the large number of readers I get who live with some other form of chronic illness. While specific causes and symptoms may vary from disease to disease, there are a tremendous amount of experiences that those who suffer from a chronic, incurable illness all encounter. I hear from enough folks who have something other than MS, that I thought I’d make mention of it and remind everyone, that you may find help, solace, and camaraderie where you least expect it.

Similar symptoms, different causes

There are so many similarities between a number of chronic illnesses, that I’m willing to bet that more than a few of you were or nearly were misdiagnosed during your initial onset of symptoms. Diseases like Lyme, Lupus, Fibromyalgia, Sjögren’s Syndrome, and even chronic migraines can all present in a similar fashion to MS. In my own experience, several doctors were convinced that I had Guillain-Barre syndrome. Many of these maladies are related to the immune system. Many also have similar symptoms like fatigue, pain, unsteadiness on your feet, and various cognitive issues. In fact, you could have several people, all with a different chronic illness, mention their symptoms and I guarantee there will be massive overlap. Similar issues, simply with different causes behind them.

Shared experience

While there are different causes and treatments for each chronic illness, there are so many experiences that we all share. At the end of the day, if two people are so fatigued, that they can’t even get up to use the bathroom or get a drink of water because they feel like their body is submerged in thick mud, then it doesn’t really matter if one has MS and one has Lupus. Sure, when it comes to treatment (although there are definitely similar experiences there too, even if the medications are different), there are differences, but those common experiences can offer a lot to those two people. Someone reading about my experience with MS-related fatigue is still going to get some comfort because despite the different causes, the effect is the same for both of us.

The importance

One thing I often hear from people with MS, is that “you don’t get MS, until you get MS”. Meaning, you can’t possibly understand what this disease is like if you don’t have it. To continue with the fatigue example, people with MS often get very rankled when someone without an illness says “they’re tired, too” when talking about fatigue. It’s just not the same. That kind of thing makes for a pretty lonely existence and one where you feel like no one can possibly understand you. Enter our friends who suffer from a different chronic illness. I know from experience that a lot of our experiences overlap. I know that my friend with Lyme disease understands my fatigue, my friend with diabetes understands giving themselves injections, and my buddy with rheumatoid arthritis has a pretty good idea of what my pain is like.

Finding others who understand

I think we can all learn a lot from each other and our shared experiences. So much of my time with MS, I’ve looked, not for treatment, but for others that understand what I’m going through. There is just something about knowing that another person truly understands what you are talking about. The number of people that actually “get you” goes up tremendously when you talk about our friends who suffer from other chronic illnesses. is run by a company called Health Union, which operates a number of websites for other conditions. It’s certainly worth checking some of them out to see what shared experiences we all have.

Thanks so much for reading and always feel free to share!


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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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