Lady Gaga shows the world that fibromyalgia is real and can be debilitating

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Throughout her career, Lady Gaga has consistently worked to be an activist for a wide variety of social and health issues – ranging from teen LGBT issues and sexual assault to bringing light to eating disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder.

For the singer, many of the issues that she works to bring awareness to are highly personal. Lady Gaga has spoken at length about her own trials with body image issues, disordered eating, and PTSD, while using her Born This Way Foundation to raise money, provide support, and spread awareness for those affected by trauma and mental illness.

However, it took a recent hospitalization for Gaga to reveal that she also lives with an often debilitating but overlooked chronic illness called fibromyalgia.

Following a sudden hospitalization for severe pain and a canceled performance at the Rock in Rio music festival in Brazil, the singer used Twitter to tell her fans that she is being treated by “the very best doctors” despite being in severe pain.

Despite affecting over 5 million American adults, fibromyalgia is poorly understood by much of the public. The condition has been dismissed as a weakness or a “nonmedical” issue because most only know one symptom of fibromyalgia – chronic pain with no obvious cause. However, those who live with the disease know well that chronic pain barely begins to describe the severe unending pain and other health issues that accompany the condition.

As Connie A. Luedtke, the nursing supervisor of the Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Clinic at Mayo Clinic explained to The Huffington Post:

“The top misconception is that people think fibromyalgia isn’t a real medical problem or that it is ‘all in your head.’ … In people who have fibromyalgia, the brain and spinal cord process pain signals differently. As a result, they react more strongly to touch and pressure, with a heightened sensitivity to pain. It is a real physiological and neurochemical problem.”

While men and women can develop fibromyalgia, women are statistically more likely to be affected. Unfortunately, this gender disparity may also contribute to the lack of recognition for fibromyalgia as a serious health issue. A 2011 report showed that although women were more likely to suffer from pain conditions, women’s reports of pain were more likely to be dismissed.

Source: Twitter

Fibromyalgia can also lead to a number of symptoms not directly associated with pain. The chronic illness can cause fatigue, mood issues or disorders, and even memory problems. Additionally, it can contribute to the development of anxiety and depression, which Gaga has also battled throughout her life.

In fact, fibromyalgia’s widespread impact on mental wellness and related structural changes in the brain have many experts saying it should be considered a mental illness as much as a physical one. Dr. Rakesh Jain, MD, describes it as a “biopsychosocial disorder” for its myriad of ways it manifests biologically and psychologically – such as depression, anxiety, cognitive dysfunction (nicknamed “fibro fog”), and even digestive issues.

“Fibromyalgia is a real entity, but it is not just a pain disorder,” Jain explained to members of the Psych Congress conference. “Pain is one manifestation of this disease. In the past, fibromyalgia treatment was limited to rheumatologists because we saw it as an inflammatory disorder. But now, with improved understanding, it belongs to primary care and to psychiatry. Everybody’s pulled in because the disorder is multifaceted and requires the talents and expertise of multiple specialties.”

Thankfully, Lady Gaga has also publicly spoken about the importance of destigmatizing mental health treatment and proudly admits to receiving treatment for her past trauma, body image issues, and post-traumatic stress disorder. This means she is also well placed to address the psychological issues stemming from fibromyalgia while also receiving treatment for the chronic physical pain.

Gaga’s fans have been strongly supportive and empathetic in the response to the singer’s Twitter post, but the biggest reaction has been from those thanking the singer for bringing awareness to the illness they cope with every day. The more than 5 million people living with fibromyalgia often feel like they are in a constant battle that no one else can see, fighting through the pain just to live an ordinary life. Over time, this can lead to abuse and addiction to prescription painkillers and other drugs in an effort to distract from the pain.

However – as Lady Gaga shows – it is possible to still live a full and happy life while living with fibromyalgia. Some days may be harder than others, but the increasing awareness and better understanding of the condition are leading to improved care and support.

Fibromyalgia and chronic pain can make the line between responsibly taking medication and abuse dangerously thin, often leading to issues with addiction. Unfortunately, crossing that line can be just as debilitating as fibromyalgia itself. Brookhaven can help you recover from problems with substance abuse or addiction while also helping address the issues caused by chronic pain. Call us at (888) 298-4673 to learn more about our treatment programs.

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