Lady Gaga’s chronic pain- what is fibromyalgia?

Lady Gaga is known for her catchy pop songs and outrageous sense of style. Some may also recognise her as an actress from her award winning performance in American Horror Story. What many didn’t know before the release of her Netflix documentary, ‘Gaga: Five Foot Two’, is that she is suffering from a condition called fibromyalgia.  

Fibromyalgia is hard to pronounce, hard to diagnose and even harder to live with. With Gaga cancelling the European leg of her tour under doctor’s order, the condition has been brought to a forefront in mainstream media, with many questioning what fibromyalgia actually is.

According to the Department of Social Protection, fibromyalgia is a condition that presents with “chronic generalised musculoskeletal pain, fatigue, and a wide variety of other symptoms”. In simpler terms, people with fibromyalgia can experience constant pain all over their body and exhaustion. The condition affects how the brain and central nervous system interpret pain signals, causing patients to cope with high levels of chronic pain.

FibroIreland is one of the leading organisations in Ireland spreading awareness of the condition and connecting those with fibromyalgia with others affected. Rachel Lynch, an accredited pyschotherapist and representative for FibroIreland, says that the condition can be likened to the feeling of a “nasty flu that won’t go away”.

Although there are no exact statistics about how common fibromyalgia is in young people, a study by FibroIreland revealed that more women are diagnosed than men with a ratio of 6:1. It’s estimated that only 2-4 per cent of the population suffer from the condition, with women between the ages of 20 and 50 most commonly affected.

When it comes to treatment, Lynch says the first step is accurate diagnosis. “Fibromyalgia can mimic many other illnesses. It needs to be diagnosed by a rheumatologist. So if you think you have it you need your GP to send you a referral letter”.

There is currently no outright cure for fibromyalgia, but symptoms can be managed with various medications to help with the pain. “Antiepileptic drugs may be prescribed as these help reduce pain. NSAIDs and opiate based meds are prescribed for pain. There may be a lot of trial and error finding the right medications as people with Fibro are very sensitive and what works for one person may not work for another,” Lynch says.

As for support in Ireland, FibroIreland run a programme called LEAP, or a Lifestyle Education Awareness Programme, to help people recognise the early signs and manage the symptoms.

That said, Lynch believes that the government needs to invest more resources into researching and treating the condition. “We need the medical community to take a greater interest in this illness and we need the experts to start researching this condition properly. Patients need to shake off the stigma of this condition and start talking about how fibro affects their lives. TDs needs to be lobbied for better services and the HSE needs to step up and offer more information to the public.”

While fans may be disappointed in the pop singer’s decision to postpone her tour until 2018, victims of the chronic condition have one less reason to feel alone.


Rachel Farrell

Image Credit: Netflix