Lady Gaga’s tour-busting fibromyalgia disorder: What you need to know

— Lady Gaga

The lyrics from her 2015 song may now have new meaning for superstar singer Lady Gaga, who has postponed a portion of her world tour because of a worsening case of fibromyalgia, a chronic pain condition she says she has experienced for a while.

Lady Gaga, 31, opened up about her battle with the illness to fans on Twitter last week, which has raised interest in what the disease is and how it is treated.

What is fibromyalgia?

The word “fibromyalgia” comes from Latin and Greek origins: The Latin prefix “fibro” refers to fibrous tissue, while the Greek word “myo” means muscle and “algos” means pain. Fibromyalgia is characterized by widespread musculoskeletal pain accompanied by fatigue, sleep problems and memory and mood issues.

The condition affects 2 to 8 percent of the general population, according to a 2014 review published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, with similar rates across countries and cultures. Women, particularly young ones, are more likely to develop the condition than men.

There is also some association noted with other diseases like tension headaches, anxiety and depression.

Matt Slocum/APLady Gaga performs during the halftime show of the NFL Super Bowl 51 football game between the New England Patriots and the Atlanta Falcons in Houston, Feb. 5, 2017.

What causes it? How is it diagnosed?

The true cause of fibromyalgia is still a mystery but doctors believe it has to do with a combination of three factors. The first of these is your genes. What we do know is that the condition tends to run in families, and researchers now believe that many genes are involved.

The second group of factors that potentially contributes to the condition are things like psychological stress or trauma.

Third, doctors also believe that in many cases, infections can trigger illnesses that, in turn, activate or aggravate fibromyalgia.

As far as where the pain originates, it appears to result from processes in the brain. Because of this, medical professionals also often refer to the condition as a “central sensitization syndrome.”

Symptoms sometimes begin after a physical trauma, surgery, infection or significant psychological stress, or they gradually accumulate over time with no single triggering event.

There are no specific tests to diagnose the illness. Doctors often arrive at this diagnosis by first excluding other potential causes, and then verifying whether a set number of symptoms are present.

What are the common symptoms?

Some of the common symptoms of fibromyalgia include:

• Widespread pain: The pain associated with fibromyalgia often is described as a constant, dull ache lasting for at least three months. To be considered widespread, the pain must occur on both sides of your body and above and below your waist.

• Fatigue: People with fibromyalgia often wake up tired, even though they report sleeping for long periods of time. Sleep is often disrupted by pain, and many patients with fibromyalgia have other sleep disorders, such as restless legs syndrome and sleep apnea.

• Cognitive difficulties. A symptom commonly referred to as “fibro fog” impairs the ability to focus, pay attention and concentrate on mental tasks.

What treatments are available?

The treatment of fibromyalgia can be difficult. The main focus of treatment is symptom relief. Some of the treatment modalities used are:

Medications: Medications can help reduce the pain of fibromyalgia and improve sleep. Common choices include:

• Pain relievers. Over-the-counter pain relievers may be helpful. Your doctor might suggest a prescription pain relievers. Narcotics are not advised, as they can lead to dependence and may even worsen the pain over time.

• Antidepressants: Some antidepressants like duloxetinemay help ease the pain and fatigue associated with fibromyalgia. Your doctor may also prescribe amitriptyline or the muscle relaxant cyclobenzaprine to help promote sleep.

• Anti-seizure drugs. Medications designed to treat epilepsy like gabapentin and pregabalin are often useful in reducing certain types of pain

Therapy: A variety of different therapies can help reduce the effect that fibromyalgia has on your body and your life. Examples include:

• Physical therapy: A physical therapist can teach you exercises that will improve your strength, flexibility and stamina. Water-based exercises might be particularly helpful.

• Occupational therapy: An occupational therapist can help you make adjustments to your work area or the way you perform certain tasks that will cause less stress on your body.

• Counseling: While this is not a therapy intended to directly affect the source of pain, it can help strengthen your belief in your abilities and teach you strategies for dealing with stressful situations.

Also, some complementary and alternative therapies for pain and stress management do appear to safely relieve stress and reduce pain. But make sure to exercise caution while attempting these newer practices since many still remain unproven because of inadequate studies.

• Acupuncture: Some studies indicate that acupuncture helps relieve fibromyalgia symptoms, while others show no benefit.

• Massage therapy: It often helps relieve stress and anxiety.

• Yoga and tai chi: Both have been found to be helpful in controlling fibromyalgia symptoms.

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