Lady Gaga has a monster to deal with, and it’s not her monster paw tattoo. As the following Tweet explained, she “is suffering from severe pain that has materially impacted her ability to perform live” and has led to her canceling the remaining 10 shows in Europe of her Joanne World Tour:
Although her recent announcement did not explicitly mention the cause of the severe pain, last September, while promoting her Netflix film Five Foot Two during the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival, Gaga revealed her struggles with chronic pain from fibromyalgia:
So at this point, one could guess that the “severe pain” is related to her fibromyalgia diagnosis.
Have you ever heard of fibromyalgia? It isn’t the name of a breakfast cereal or a probiotic yogurt with fiber. It’s an often misunderstood condition that affects 10 million people in the U.S. and 3-6% of people worldwide, according to the National Fibromyalgia Association (NFA). It also can lead to what’s been described by some fibromyalgia sufferers as a “monster list” of symptoms that affect many parts of the body.
In fact, one of the requirements of a fibromyalgia diagnosis is “widespread musculoskeletal pain,” as indicated by the Mayo Clinic. What does widespread mean? To qualify as fibromyalgia pain, it has to occur on both the right and left side of your body and both above and below your waist. This helps distinguish fibromyalgia from some other conditions that cause more localized pain, such as repeatedly hitting your head on the wall when the Patriots win the Super Bowl again. (By the way, don’t do this as it can cause severe damage.)
But pain isn’t the only problem with fibromyalgia. There’s fatigue. There can be sleep problems, either from the pain interrupting sleep or from sleep disorders (e.g., restless legs syndrome and sleep apnea) that frequently accompany fibromyalgia. There can also be problems thinking and concentrating, even to the point that patients feel that they are in a “fibro fog.” This is not a complete list of possible symptoms as fibromyalgia sufferers have indicated experiencing a number of other symptoms and problems.
While fibromyalgia has been relatively understudied, the thought is that the cause of the condition is higher up than where many of the symptoms are occurring. Higher up doesn’t mean that the CEO or President of your organization is to blame. Rather the problem may be in how the brain processes pain signals. The brain may overreact to pain signals via abnormal increases in the levels of neurotransmitters and changes in the function of neurotransmitter receptors in the brain. Studies have suggested that the risk of fibromyalgia may increase if someone in your family has the condition, you’ve experienced stressful or traumatic events or repetitive injuries, or you have lupus, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), or obesity. Of note, Lady Gaga has revealed that she suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from a sexual assault at age 19:
Nonetheless, more research is needed to better understand the causes, diagnosis, and treatment of fibromyalgia. Much about the condition remains in a “fog.” Misunderstanding and misinformation about fibromyalgia is as widespread as the pain and symptoms, as evidenced by what you can find on the Internet. (Yes, surprise, there is misinformation on the Internet.)
Diagnosing fibromyalgia is a particularly challenging challenge. For the longest time, there hasn’t been a single definitive test. (The FM/a test has been available for several years but opinions about the test’s accuracy are not uniform.) Usually, it is diagnosed by eliminating other possible causes of the symptoms through extensive testing. In fact, many may hide, ignore, or write-off the symptoms of fibromyalgia for years due to shame or misunderstanding. A study published in PLoS ONE found that 73% of patients who seemed to meet the criteria for fibromylagia never were diagnosed with the condition.
Treatment is another challenge. Physical therapy, counseling, and other forms of stress and pain management are hallmarks of current treatment. The Mayo Clinic lists some medication options: non-narcotic pain relievers, antidepressants such as duloxetine (Cymbalta) and milnacipran (Savella), and anti-seizure drugs such as gabapentin (Neurontin) and pregabalin (Lyrica). But ultimately these medications focus on relieving and managing symptoms and not treating the root causes of fibromyalgia, which again are not yet really known.
Gaga’s announcement shows how much a monster her pain has become. Canceling ten shows is not a trivial task. The Joanne Tour will be offering refunds beginning February 6. Not using the venues and all associated personnel and resources will be costly. Plus a lot of “Little Monsters”, what Gaga calls her fans, will be disappointed.