Lady Gaga made a surprising announcement on Twitter early Tuesday morning: She suffers from fibromyalgia, a chronic disorder that causes widespread musculoskeletal pain, fatigue, and tenderness in certain areas. The singer made the revelation while addressing her upcoming Netflix documentary, Gaga: Five Foot Two.
“In our documentary the #chronicillness #chronicpain I deal w/ is #Fibromyalgia I wish to help raise awareness & connect people who have it,” she wrote in her tweet. This isn’t the first time Gaga has publicly discussed her chronic pain, but this might be the first time she’s disclosed her diagnosis to fans.
The condition can be difficult to treat, the organization says, and people often see several doctors before they get a diagnosis. People who suffer from fibromyalgia typically feel pain all over their bodies, Edward Rosick, D.O., M.P.H., an assistant professor of family and community medicine at Michigan State University, tells SELF. “They also have multiple trigger points where certain areas of their body are exquisitely tender,” he says. “If you touch them, they wince in excruciating pain.”
Aside from pain, which is the primary symptom, sufferers of fibromyalgia can experience fatigue (even after they’ve had a good night’s sleep) and difficulty focusing, according to the Mayo Clinic. The condition also often coexists with other painful disorders like irritable bowel syndrome, migraines, painful bladder syndrome, and joint disorders, per the Mayo Clinic.
For starters, no one knows why the condition affects more women than men, Dr. Rosick says, adding that it may simply be hormonal. Experts aren’t even sure what causes fibromyalgia in the first place, but Vernon Williams, M.D., a sports neurologist and director of the Kerlan-Jobe Center for Sports Neurology and Pain Medicine at Kerlan-Jobe Orthopaedic Clinic in Los Angeles, tells SELF that there are some theories.
Some experts think that the condition may be endocrine- or hormonally-based, and it may also be due to an immune abnormality. “In some cases, people have had a history of some kind of psychological or physical trauma, but we don’t know how that might affect the immune system or nervous system,” Dr. Williams says. New research has also suggested that the condition may be a neuropathic pain disorder that involves some abnormality in how the brain and spinal cord processes pain signals in people with fibromyalgia, he says. But again, there is no definitive, known cause of the disease.
Instead, people are diagnosed after a slew of other conditions are ruled out, Dr. Rosick says. And, again, that can take a while, especially given that fibromyalgia tends to develop over months or years. “People don’t just wake up one day and say, ‘Wow, I’m hurting all over,’” he says.
People with fibromyalgia can be evaluated for anxiety, depression, arthritis, lupus, or hypothyroidism, among other things, before doctors finally arrive at the diagnosis. “It’s a diagnosis of exclusion,” Dr. Rosick says.
Treatment typically involves a combination of things, including oral medication (like antidepressants, pain relievers, or anti-seizure drugs), cognitive behavioral therapy, physical therapy, and exercise, Dr. Williams says. Exercise is tricky given that fibromyalgia sufferers regularly grapple with pain and fatigue, but Dr. Rosick says it can make a big difference. An anti-inflammatory diet may also be helpful, he says.
There is no cure for fibromyalgia, but it is possible to get the pain under control in most cases, Dr. Rosick says. “I’ve seen many people get a lot better where they function better, although some days it’s better or worse,” he says. “I’ve never seen the pain go away completely but I’ve seen it get significantly better.”