Lady Gaga's Chronic Pain: What Is Fibromyalgia?

Lady Gaga performing at the 2017 Super Bowl.
Lady Gaga performing at the 2017 Super Bowl. (Image credit: Ronald Martinez/Getty)

Singer Lady Gaga recently revealed that she has fibromyalgia; the painful condition is often hard to diagnose, and its causes are still unclear.

Yesterday, the singer said on Twitter that her upcoming Netflix documentary "Gaga: Five Foot Two" will touch on her struggles with chronic pain.

"In our documentary, the #chronicillness #chronicpain I deal w/ is #Fibromyalgia," she wrote on Twitter. "I wish to help raise awareness & connect people who have it."

The chronic disorder causes pain throughout the body, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). People with the condition have "tender points" — for example, on their necks, shoulders, backs, hips, arms and legs — that hurt when touched or when pressure is put on them, the NIH says. Most often, this pain affects the muscles, but it can sometimes affect joints or even the skin, according to the American College of Rheumatology (ACR). [5 Surprising Facts About Pain]

(The word "fibromyalgia" literally means "muscle and tissue pain," coming from the Latin term "fibro," meaning fibrous tissue, and the Greek words "myo," meaning muscle, and "algia," meaning pain, according to the NIH.)

In addition to pain, people with fibromyalgia often experience other symptoms, including fatigue, trouble sleeping, headaches, tingling or numbness in the hands and feet, and problems with thinking and memory.

An estimated 5 million U.S. adults have fibromyalgia, according to the NIH. About 80 to 90 percent of those with fibromyalgia are women, but men and children can also have the condition.

The exact causes of fibromyalgia are still unknown, but it's likely that many factors contribute to the condition, according to the Mayo Clinic. For example, certain genes may make a person more susceptible to fibromyalgia. In addition, experiencing a physically or emotionally traumatic event may trigger the condition, the Mayo Clinic says.

Researchers now think that changes caused by fibromyalgia affect the way the brain and body communicate. These changes may involve increased levels of certain brain chemicals that signal pain, the Mayo Clinic says. Additionally, receptors in the brain may develop a "memory" of the pain, which causes them to overreact to pain signals, the clinic says.

Diagnosing fibromyalgia can be challenging, in part because its two main symptoms — pain and fatigue — are common in many conditions, according to the NIH. This means that doctors often have to rule out other possible causes of pain and fatigue before diagnosing a patient with fibromyalgia. There's no single diagnostic lab test for the condition, either.

But doctors familiar with fibromyalgia can diagnose it based on certain symptoms, including widespread pain that lasts for more than three months and that doesn't have another medical explanation, according to the Mayo Clinic.

There is no cure for fibromyalgia, but symptoms can be treated with medication as well as nondrug treatments, according to the ACR. Often, people have the best results when they use multiple treatments, the ACR said.

There are three approved drugs to treat fibromyalgia symptoms: duloxetine, milnacipran and pregabalin. Duloxetine and milnacipran work by changing the levels of brain chemicals that help control pain levels, and pregabalin works by blocking excessive activity of nerve cells, the ACR said. Over-the-counter painkillers, including acetaminophen and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) may also help the ease pain and stiffness caused by fibromyalgia.

Nondrug treatments for fibromyalgia include low-impact exercises, such as walking, biking and swimming, as well as yoga and tai chi. In addition, mindfulness-based therapies may help with fibromyalgia, according to the ACR. These are therapies in which people learn to increase their awareness of the present moment and their acceptance of difficult thoughts and feelings.

Original article on Live Science.

Rachael Rettner

Rachael is a Live Science contributor, and was a former channel editor and senior writer for Live Science between 2010 and 2022. She has a master's degree in journalism from New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program. She also holds a B.S. in molecular biology and an M.S. in biology from the University of California, San Diego. Her work has appeared in Scienceline, The Washington Post and Scientific American.