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In the October issue of Vogue , the 32-year-old pop star talked about her fight against fibromyalgia, a disease that affects the nervous system and causes pain throughout the body.
“I am so irritated by people who do not believe that fibromyalgia is real,” said the singer. “For me, and for many others, it’s really a cyclone of anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress, trauma and panic disorder, which lock up the nervous system and cause nerve pain.”
“People need more compassion. Chronic pain is not a joke. And every day, we wake up without knowing how we are going to feel.
Gaga, born Stefani Germanotta, revealed that she was suffering from the debilitating illness last September, just before the release of her documentary Gaga: Five Foot Two.
“I want to help raise awareness and connect people who have it,” she tweeted.
For Gaga, the pain was so intense that she was unable to perform. In September 2017, she was hospitalized because of “intense pain” and canceled her next concerts.
According to Mary-Ann Fitzcharles, Associate Professor of Medicine in the Division of Rheumatology at McGill University, there is a lot of misunderstanding about fibromyalgia. Until recently, this disease was poorly accepted.
Many felt that the symptoms of fibromyalgia were all “in the head” of people struggling with the disease, as they often looked healthy.
“It’s now a completely recognized condition, no question,” Fitzcharles said. “We have moved away from the notion that all patients have mental illness.”
What is fibromyalgia?
Fibromyalgia is a condition in which people experience chronic muscle and tendon pain, often accompanied by other symptoms such as sleep problems, headaches, or mood disorders, Fitzcharles told Global News. .
According to the Arthritis Society of Canada, fibromyalgia affects about 2% of Canadians, although the majority of people who suffer from fibromyalgia (80 to 90%) are women. People aged 20 to 50 are most at risk of developing the disease, reports The Arthritis Society.
Fibromyalgia is not currently cured, but the treatment helps manage the symptoms.
What does fibromyalgia look like?
Symptoms of fibromyalgia vary, but include fatigue, sleep disturbance, cognitive dysfunction, irritable bowel syndrome, mood disorders such as anxiety and depression, and migraines. There is a common denominator: pain.
“For over 30% of people with fibromyalgia, even just touching and stroking the skin is perceived as unpleasant,” Fitzcharles said.
She further explained that painful symptoms in people with fibromyalgia indicate a disconnect between their body and their nervous system.
“It’s like the nervous system is excited. In many patients, we are seeing signs of hypervigilance, “she said. “People are therefore too sensitive to loud noises, overloaded environments and intense light.”
What causes fibromyalgia?
Medical experts are unsure of the exact cause of fibromyalgia, but the disease can often be traced to a traumatic event, Fitzcharles said.
“One-third of people will say they were in perfect physical health, and then there was a [significant] event,” Fitzcharles said. “It could be a serious viral illness, a traumatic event such as a car accident or a fracture, or an extremely stressful physiological event that seems to trigger it.”
Fitzcharles says the disease seems to be coming out of nowhere for two-thirds of people with fibromyalgia. The risk of developing the disease is increased if your family has a history of fibromyalgia.
Why is fibromyalgia hard to diagnose?
Fibromyalgia has intrigued doctors for years. It is difficult to diagnose because there is no standardized test for the disease and there is no test to confirm the diagnosis. In addition, symptoms may change frequently and those living with fibromyalgia often appear healthy.
“The patient looks absolutely normal. There is no swelling, there is no fever, there is nothing to see. So even family and friends have trouble understanding the process, “Fitzcharles said.
As she is difficult to identify, she says patients must wait five years before being properly diagnosed.
“What doctors have to do [to diagnose] is to take a good [medical] story and examine it to make sure that one of the conditions that may appear to be fibromyalgia is not present,” she said.
Then the doctors will do minimal tests to make sure there is no other underlying disease. “We strongly recommend that you do not perform excessive tests on patients, such as X-rays and excessive MRIs.”
How do you treat fibromyalgia?
Fitzcharles says the condition can be treated with medication, but most patients control their disease with self-management techniques, including a healthy lifestyle, proper sleep, and reduced stress.
“The most successful intervention is probably a regular program of comfortable physical activity,” Fitzcharles said. “Non-pharmacological management is extremely important.”
Fitzcharles said it was important to find medications that lessen the pain – not contribute to it.
“Unfortunately, most of the drugs we use have significant side effects, and many side effects may be similar to the symptoms of fibromyalgia,” she said. “So, if a patient says he has great difficulty sleeping and [significant] pain, if we can choose a drug that can impact sleep and pain, that’s the way we go.”
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