Last week, Lady Gaga gave her following of Little Monsters a scare when she was abruptly hospitalized and forced to cancel a planned performance in Brazil. Then, this Monday, her rep confirmed that the singer would be postponing the remaining European leg of her tour due to her ongoing fight with fibromyalgia—a serious medical condition the singer is working to raise awareness about. (Her Netflix documentary, Lady Gaga: Five Foot Two, debuts on September 22 and will chronicle her battle with the disease.)
To speak out about her latest health scare, the singer took to her Instagram account on Monday to provide some raw, heartfelt insight—validating the love and respect she has for her followers and her determination to always keep communication open and honest.
"I have always been honest about my physical and mental health struggles. Searching for years to get to the bottom of them. It is complicated and difficult to explain, and we are trying to figure it out. As I get stronger and when I feel ready, I will tell my story in more depth and plan to take this on strongly so I can not only raise awareness but expand research for others who suffer as I do, so I can help make a difference."
Gaga did want to make it clear, however, that she doesn't in any way see herself as a victim: "I use the word 'suffer' not for pity, or attention, and have been disappointed to see people online suggest that I'm being dramatic, making this up, or playing the victim to get out of touring. If you knew me, you would know this couldn't be further from the truth. I'm a fighter. I use the word suffer not only because trauma and chronic pain have changed my life, but because they are keeping me from living a normal life."
Aside from the debilitating pain and mental anguish fibromyalgia causes, the trouble with the condition is that it's widely misunderstood—there are no visible signs and symptoms, which makes it difficult to verbalize—or even prove—to others.
To end her post on a positive and very much hopeful note, the singer emphasized that performing is what she loves most, and taking this time now is in the interest of a larger-scope plan to be able to travel and perform for decades to come.
"[Trauma and chronic pain] are also keeping me from what I love the most in the world: performing for my fans. I am looking forward to touring again soon, but I have to be with my doctors right now so I can be strong and perform for you all for the next 60 years or more. I love you so much."
To get more information about fibromyalgia, we reached out to Sara Twogood, assistant professor of clinical obstetrics and gynecology at Keck Medicine of USC, who explained that specialists are unsure what the underlying cause of fibromyalgia is—the tip of the iceberg for those feeling misunderstood or even accused of manifesting the symptoms "in their head." However, in the past few decades, researchers have increased their efforts to further examine the causes behind the condition to better help patients formulate a treatment plan.
To find out which treatment methods have proven to be the most effective, we spoke with Twogood and Jessica A. Shepherd, MD, director of minimally invasive gynecology at the University of Illinois at Chicago and SweetSpot Labs Expert. Below, their answers.
How does the condition work?
"In fibromyalgia patients, the pain is bilateral and occurs on both sides of the body," explains Twogood. "Historically, doctors have used 18 specific tender points distributed throughout the body to help aid in diagnosis." These trigger points, located at the back of the neck, elbows, front of the neck, hips, lower back, upper back, knees, shoulders, and chest help determine the severity of a patient's symptoms.
However, localized muscle aches aren't the sole cause of the widespread pain—patients with fibromyalgia have malfunctions in their nervous systems, meaning that the levels of neurotransmitters that facilitate pain transmission are elevated in the cerebrospinal fluid and brain. Thus, pain is amplified and felt at a much stronger rate than the average person.
Who is Most Susceptible?
Says Twogood, "Fibromyalgia is more common in women and is thought to be the most common cause of generalized pain in women aged 20 to 55 years old. Women with fibromyalgia often have other conditions such as IBS (irritable bowel syndrome), migraine headaches, arthritis, chronic pelvic pain, or interstitial cystitis."
In the case of IBS and pelvic pain, 40% to 70% of patients experience severe, shooting abdominal pain, bloating, and gas. Fibromyalgia also greatly amplifies menstrual pain and cramping. With these factors considered, it may be easy to liken the cause of your pain to your period, but if you experience any of the aforementioned symptoms, the problem is much larger and should be examined by a physician as soon as possible.
How Is it Treated?
According to Shepherd, fibromyalgia is treated with medications such as antidepressants, anticonvulsants, and NSAIDs (aka nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs).
Exercise and physical activity are also vital to the success of your treatment. While the thought of exercising, or even getting up to move at all may be a struggle, physical activity and exercise are key components of feeling better—doing so releases endorphins, which are natural painkillers.
Physical therapy may also be a helpful route to take, as having a professional work with you to stretch your body and create new muscle memory will encourage recovery.
Both Twogood and Shepherd say that acupuncture and yoga will ease symptoms of fibromyalgia. Acupuncture relieves pressure points while yoga stretches the muscles and eases the mind—all recipes for more relaxation and less focus on the pain. (If you're looking to go the natural route, try some of these prescription-free remedies, after speaking with a doctor, of course.)
Most importantly, though, Twogood adds that treatment can be a long, challenging process, but a trusting relationship between you and your doctor is important. "Patient education is paramount," she explains.
This post was originally published at an earlier date and has been updated by Erin Jahns.