‘Chronic Pain Is No Joke’: Lady Gaga On Her Fight With Fibromyalgia

In an interview recently with Vogue, Lady Gaga opened up about how hard it was to live with Fibromyalgia, a condition that affects the nervous system and causes pain throughout the body. “I get so irritated with people who don’t believe fibromyalgia is real,” the singer said. “For me, and I think for many others, it’s really a cyclone of anxiety, depression, PTSD, trauma, and panic disorder, all of which sends the nervous system into overdrive, and then you have nerve pain as a result.” Chronic pain is real and very, very uncomfortable, but for some, it seems to be a joke, according to the singer.

“People need to be more compassionate. Chronic pain is no joke. And it’s every day waking up not knowing how you’re going to feel.” Born Stefani Germanotta, Lady Gaga revealed she suffers from the debilitating condition last September, just before the release of her documentary Gaga: Five Foot Two. “I wish to help raise awareness & connect people who have it,” she tweeted. Lady Gaga has experienced pain so bad that she has had to cancel her concerts.

There is a lot of confusion surrounding the illness. Because up until recently, Fibromyalgia was not widely accepted as an illness, said Dr. Mary-Ann Fitzcharles, an associate professor of medicine in the Division of Rheumatology at McGill University reports globalnews.ca  For a lot of people, the idea of Fibromyalgia was something that they made up in their head because there were no physical signs of illness. “It is now a completely recognized condition, no question,” Fitzcharles said. “We’ve moved away from the notion that all patients have a mental illness.”

What is Fibromyalgia?

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Fibromyalgia is a state in which people feel chronic pain in their muscles and tendons, and is often accompanied with other symptoms like sleep problems, headaches or mood disorders. According to the Arthritis Society of Canada, fibromyalgia affects around two percent of Canadians, although the majority of sufferers (80 to 90 percent) are women. People between the ages of 20 and 50 are most at risk for developing the condition, the Arthritis Society reports. There is no cure for Fibromyalgia currently, but it can be made bearable with proper treatment.

How does it feel?

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The symptoms vary from person to person, but they include symptoms such as fatigue, disrupted sleep, irritable bowel syndrome, anxiety and depression, and migraines. The most common thread among all of this is chronic pain. “For more than 30 percent of people with fibromyalgia, even just a gentle touch and stroking the skin is perceived as being unpleasant,” Fitzcharles said. The pain is because there is a disconnect between their bodies and nervous systems. “It’s as if the nervous system is fired up. In many patients, we see evidence of something we call hypervigilance,” she said. “So people are overly sensitive to loud noises, busy environments, and intensive light.”

What causes it?

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It is hard to pinpoint the exact cause of the illness, but doctors believe the illness can often be traced back to a traumatic event. “One-third of people will say they were in completely perfect physical health, and then there was some [significant] event,” Fitzcharles said. “It might have been a severe viral illness, a traumatic event, like a motor vehicle accident and broken bone, [or] a severely stressful physiological event that seems to trigger the onset.” For the remaining people, this comes out of the blue. There is an increased chance of developing the condition if your family has a history of fibromyalgia.

Why is it hard to diagnose?

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This is one illness that has been puzzling doctors for a very long time, now. This is because there is no one cure for the illness and also no specific test for those who are diagnosed with the illness. “The patient looks absolutely normal. There’s no swelling, there’s no fever, there’s nothing to see. So even family and friends have difficulty understanding the process,” Fitzcharles said. She added that it sometimes takes up to five years to diagnose since it’s so hard to spot. “What physicians need to do [to diagnose it] is take a good [medical] history from the patient, and examine the patient to make sure that one of the conditions that can [appear] as fibromyalgia is not present,” she said. She also advised against ordering patients to undergo extreme tests.

How can it be treated?

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It can be treated with drugs, but also a change in lifestyle will do the trick, doctors suggest. “Probably the intervention that is most successful is a regular program of comfortable physical activity,” Fitzcharles said. “Non-pharmacologic management is exceedingly important.” But it is important for the patient that do require drugs to find medicines that relieve pain, rather than contribute to it. “Unfortunately, most of the medication we use has considerable side effects, and many of the side effects can be similar to the symptoms of fibromyalgia,” she said. “So if a patient says they have terrible difficulty with sleep and [significant] pain, if we can choose a medication that can impact sleep and pain, that’s the way we go.”

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