Lady Gaga recently discussed her struggle with chronic pain — specifically, with fibromyalgia. Aside from being hard to pronounce and popping up most frequently in vague TV commercials for pharmaceutical companies, fibromyalgia largely remains a mystery to many people.
Here’s everything you need to know about the condition, straight from doctors.
What is fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia is a chronic disease that causes people to feel pain and achiness in muscles throughout their body according to Dr. Anthony Wong, an internal medicine physician at Saddleback Memorial Medical Center in Laguna Hills, California, and Dr. Lalita Komanapalli, an internal medicine physician at the Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center in Fountain Valley, California.
While the cause is unknown, it is thought to be related to genetic factors with possible environmental triggers like stress and trauma, Wong said, adding that it affects women twice as often as men.
“People who are at higher risk for fibromyalgia often have other rheumatologic diseases, including lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis and osteoarthritis,” Komanapalli said.
What are the symptoms?
Wong noted that patients with fibromyalgia typically mention nonspecific pain and achiness throughout their body, as well as tiredness, a lack of energy or motivation and chronic fatigue. Patients might also suffer from insomnia, bowel or bladder symptoms and chronic headaches.
In addition to muscle pain and fatigue, symptoms include headache, depression, anxiety, insomnia, gastrointestinal issues and difficulty thinking, Komanapalli added.
What are the treatments?
The bad news: There is no cure for fibromyalgia. The good news: There are treatments.
“I encourage my fibromyalgia patients to get more sleep, exercise regularly and eat a healthy diet,” Wong said. He also advises them to take a multivitamin.
To help alleviate the symptoms, certain medications may be prescribed, such as a tricyclic medication, a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, gabapentin or pregabalin, Wong noted.
In addition, cognitive behavioral therapy can equip patients with tools to help cope with their symptoms, Komanapalli said.
What else do you need to know?
Because of the nature of the symptoms, fibromyalgia can be difficult to diagnose. Wong recommends that people who think they might have fibromyalgia see their primary care physician for a thorough evaluation, including a physical exam and possible laboratory blood tests.
Komanapalli wants patients with fibromyalgia to know that their condition is real and that their symptoms are not “in their head.” She also wants to empower fibromyalgia patients to know that through multimodal therapy, there is hope and they are not alone.
“Partnering with patients, we can work to find the best treatment combination — not only to help alleviate symptoms but to improve their quality of life,” she said. “New research is being done to further our understanding of this complex disease and hopefully find a cure in the near future.”