Did you know?: Lady Gaga and Fibromyalgia
In September of 2017, Lady Gaga made an announcement on Twitter that she has fibromyalgia. For seven years Gaga had been dealing with chronic pain, as well as the ups and downs of ruling out other conditions. Not knowing why your body is betraying you can often cause people to think they have imaginary symptoms. By revealing this news, she hopes it will bring more people to come forward to talk about what helps them cope with FM.
What is fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia (FM) is a complex chronic pain disorder that causes intense pain and tenderness all over the body, as well as a host of other symptoms. The pain and tenderness tend to come and go and move about the body. It affects approximately 10 million people in the United States (about 80% women, 20% men). It is a condition that is often misunderstood and can be extremely debilitating, interfering with basic daily activities.
What causes FM?
The cause of FM remains uncertain, however it appears to involve the nervous system, particularly the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord). It’s a problem that occurs due to the way your brain and spinal cord process pain signals from your nerves. The brain’s pain receptors seem to develop a sort of memory of the pain and become more sensitive and overreact to pain signals. It is believed that FM results from a combination of many physical and emotional stressors, as opposed to one single event.
Symptoms resemble those of arthritis, but fibromyalgia affects the soft tissue, not the joints. FM is often associated with areas of tenderness, which are called trigger points. Even light pressure applied to these tender spots on your body can cause pain, often described as a consistent dull ache. Some common trigger points include the back of the head, tops of shoulders, upper chest, hips, knees, and outer elbows.
Other symptoms include widespread body pain, jaw pain and stiffness, moderate to severe fatigue, sleep disorders and disturbances, difficulties with memory or concentration (known as “fibro-fog”), psychological distress (anxiety and depression), muscle stiffness upon awakening or resting for an extended period, headaches, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), restless leg syndrome (RLS), sensitivity to cold or heat, and sensitivity to light, sound and odors.
How is it diagnosed?
It is incredibly difficult to diagnose FM because there is no official diagnostic test. Because there is no lab test to confirm a diagnosis of fibromyalgia, your doctor may want to rule out any other conditions that have similar symptoms first. If you have experienced pain for at least three months along with some of the other symptoms and have no diagnosable medical condition that can explain the pain, then doctors may consider this to be fibromyalgia.
Risk Factors for Flare-Ups
Fibromyalgia flare-ups can be the result of stress, physical trauma, or an unrelated systemic illness like the flu. You are also at greater risk if you have a family history of the condition or you have a rheumatic disease like lupus or rheumatoid arthritis (even though FM is not a form of arthritis).
The pain and lack of sleep associated with FM can interfere with your ability to function at home or at work. Memory and cognitive problems that interfere with your ability to concentrate can make you feel frustrated, emotional and isolated. The disappointment of dealing with an often misunderstood condition can also result in depression and health-related anxiety.
How do you know you have fibromyalgia and not…
- Arthritis causes damage to the joints (swelling and sometimes deformities) but FM does not. Arthritis is also a progressive disease and gets worse over time.
- Lyme disease
- Lyme disease often causes a ring shaped rash and the stiffness is concentrated in the neck. If caught early, antibiotics can cure your symptoms. This isn’t the case with FM.
- Additional symptoms include a rash across the face that gets worse in sunlight, kidney problems, difficulty breathing, stroke, or heart attack. These symptoms aren’t present in fibromyalgia.
Arthritis, lyme disease, and lupus can all cause pain, but they have additional symptoms that separate them from fibromyalgia. It can be difficult to tell the difference and you could have one of these conditions and fibromyalgia at the same time. That’s why it’s important to talk to your doctor for a proper diagnosis.
There is no definitive cure for fibromyalgia, but more treatment options are now available. Symptoms can be significantly improved so you can live a normal, active life, as long as you follow your treatment plan. Treatment may include a combination of medication, exercise, managing stress, getting enough sleep, and healthy eating habits.
There are a few drugs that have been approved by the FDA for the treatment of FM.
- Duloxetine (Cymbalta) and milnacipran (Savella) are antidepressant drugs that change some of the brain chemicals (serotonin and norepinephrine) that help control pain levels.
- Older drugs that affect the same brain chemicals for treating pain, include amitriptyline (Elavil) and cyclobenzaprine (Flexeril). These drugs have also been helpful in improving sleep.
- Pregabalin (Lyrica) and gabapentin (neurontin) work by blocking the over activity of nerve cells involved in pain transmission.
It’s best to talk to your doctor about possible medications that can help with your fibromyalgia symptoms and the possible side effects.
Note: It is strongly recommended to avoid opioid narcotic medications for treating FM. Research shows these drugs are not helpful to most people with fibromyalgia and will not give pain relief but instead cause greater pain and sensitivity.
A variety of different therapies can help reduce the effect FM has on your body and your life.
- A physical therapist can teach you exercises to improve your strength, flexibility and endurance. Resistance bands are a low impact exercise that help stretch stiff muscles and reduce overall pain while super soft therapy putty can help exercise your hands.
- An occupational therapist can teach you new ways to perform certain tasks and how to adjust your work area in order to put less stress on your body.
- Talking with a counselor can teach you strategies for dealing with anxiety, depression, chronic pain, and stressful situations.
5 Ways to Reduce Fibromyalgia Pain at Home
In addition to medical treatment, healthy lifestyle behaviors can reduce pain, lessen fatigue, improve sleep quality, and help you cope and live a more normal life with fibromyalgia.
- Exercise is an important part of pain management. A regular program of gentle exercise and stretching helps maintain muscle tone and reduces pain and stiffness. Slowly add daily fitness into your routine. Walking, bike riding, yoga, or water aerobics can be surprisingly helpful.
- Getting a good night’s sleep is one of the best things you can do because it lets your body repair itself physically and mentally. Set a sleep pattern by going to bed and waking up at the same time each day. Avoid taking naps during the day which can interfere with getting your full 8 hours of sleep at night. Caffeine and nicotine should also be limited as these are both stimulants. Patients with fibromyalgia should stop smoking if they are having trouble sleeping.
- Reduce your stress. Emotional stress can affect your perception of pain making you feel more vulnerable to symptoms such as chronic pain, fatigue and depression. Set aside time for relaxation and meditation especially on days when your fibromyalgia symptoms flare up. Deep breathing exercises, meditation, muscle relaxation, visualization, yoga, massage rollers, foam rollers, and massage lotion, will help reduce the stress that can bring on these symptoms.
- Maintain a healthy diet. High energy foods like almonds, beans, avocado, and oatmeal contain plenty of fiber with no added sugar. They can help boost your energy and lessen fatigue. Avoiding foods with gluten and additives such as aspartame and MSG can reduce pain significantly.
- Moist heat pads can help reduce soreness and stiffness. They increase your blood flow without drying out your skin. Whether heat or cold therapy work best depends on your body. Hot and cold packs allow you to experiment and discover which relieves your pain best. You can also combine heat and massage for additional relief using heat therapy massagers.
You can get relief from your fibromyalgia pain. Try the tips above and talk to your doctor about the best way to manage your condition. Then get back to living your life, pain free.
Mayo Clinic Staff. (2017, August). Fibromyalgia. Retrieved from http://mayocl.in/2itogxg
NFMCPA, (2014). What is Fibromyalgia. Retrieved from https://bit.ly/2jh2XvR
Shaw, R. (n.d.). Fibromyalgia, Lupus, or Both?. Retrieved from https://bit.ly/2Gi63Ny
Vad, V.B. (2017, February). Lyme Disease and Rheumatoid Arthritis vs. Fibromyalgia. Retrieved from https://bit.ly/2FXNhf6
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