On Twitter early Tuesday morning, Lady Gaga made a shocking announcement: she suffers from fibromyalgia, a debilitating disorder that causes severe musculoskeletal pain, exhaustion, and tenderness in some places. While reviewing her forthcoming Netflix documentary, Gaga: Five Foot Two, the singer made the announcement.
“The #chronicillity #chronicpain I’m dealing with w/ in our documentary is #fibromyalgia I want to help raise awareness and connect people with it,” she wrote in her tweet. This is not the first time that Gaga has spoken openly about her chronic pain, but this may be the first time she has announced her condition to fans.
The disease can be difficult to treat, the organization says, and before they get a diagnosis, patients often see multiple physicians. People with fibromyalgia typically experience pain throughout their bodies, tells SELF Edward Rosick, D.O., M.P.H., an assistant professor of family and community medicine at Michigan State University. “They also have several trigger points where there are exquisitely delicate parts of their skin,” he says. “They wince in appalling agony when you touch them.”
According to the Mayo Clinic, apart from pain, which is the primary symptom, fibromyalgic patients may experience fatigue (even after having a good night’s sleep) and focusing difficulty. The condition also often coexists through the Mayo Clinic with other painful disorders such as irritable bowel syndrome, migraines, painful bladder syndrome, and joint disorders.
There are still a lot of experts who are not aware of fibromyalgia.
First of all, no one knows why the condition affects more women than men, says Dr. Rosick, adding that it can be hormonal. But Vernon Williams, M.D., a sports neurologist and director of the Kerlan-Jobe Center for Sports Neurology and Pain Medicine at the Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic in Los Angeles, tells SELF that there are some theories.
Some experts believe the condition may be endocrine-or hormonal-based, and may be due to an immune abnormality as well. “In some cases, people have had some kind of history of psychological or physical trauma, but we don’t know how it could affect the immune system or the nervous system,” says Dr. Williams. New research has also suggested that the condition may be a neuropathic pain disorder involving some abnormality in how the brain and spinal cord processes pain signals in fibromyalgic individuals, he says. But again, the cause of the disease is not conclusive, understood.
There is no test to tell if someone is suffering from fibromyalgia.
Instead, people are diagnosed after a lot of other conditions are ruled out, says Dr. Rosick. And again, it can take a while, especially given that fibromyalgia tends to develop over months or years. “One day, people don’t just wake up and say,’ Wow, I’m hurting all over,’” he says.
People with fibromyalgia may be evaluated for anxiety, depression, arthritis, lupus, or hypothyroidism, among other things, before physicians finally arrive at a diagnosis. “This is a diagnosis of exclusion,” says Dr. Rosick.
Fibromyalgia may be treated, but treatment is not one-size-fits-all.
Treatment typically involves a combination of things, including prescription medications (such as antidepressants, pain relievers, and anti-seizuremedication), cognitive behavioral therapy, physical therapy, and exercise, says Dr. Williams. Exercise is difficult considering that fibromyalgia sufferers regularly struggle with pain and fatigue, but Dr. Rosick says it can make a big difference. An anti-inflammatory diet can also be helpful, he says.
Fibromyalgia is not healed, but the pain can be managed in most cases, says Dr. Rosick. “I’ve seen a lot of people get better when they work better, even though it’s better or worse for a few days,” he says. “I never saw the pain go away entirely, but I saw it get much better.”