Severe pain from fibromyalgia forced Lady Gaga to recently cancel the remaining dates of her world concert tour. Fibromyalgia can make it difficult for a person to perform everyday activities, let alone a rigorous stage performance. The condition is characterized by chronic widespread pain and other symptoms, such as tenderness to the touch, fatigue and difficulty sleeping.
Rozan Razzouk, M.D. , a primary care physician with Baptist Health Primary Care, says some people also may experience:
- Depression or anxiety
- Migraine or tension headaches
- Digestive problems, such as irritable bowel syndrome or gastroesophageal reflux disease
- Irritable or overactive bladder
- Pelvic pain
- Temporomandibular disorder (TMJ), which includes pain or compromised movement in the jaw or surrounding muscles.
Lady Gaga is one of an estimated 6 to 12 million Americans who suffer with fibromyalgia. Although the condition affects both men and women, approximately 90 percent of people with fibromyalgia are female.
The underlying cause of fibromyalgia is unknown. Researchers believe that central nervous system defects may affect the way the brain processes pain signals, causing amplified pain sensations. Fibromyalgia symptoms sometimes begin after a physical trauma, surgery, infection or significant psychological stress.
A physical exam helps doctors detect tenderness and excludes other causes of muscle pain. Dr. Razzouk confirms that there are no diagnostic tests to diagnose fibromyalgia; however, doctors often conduct blood tests to rule out other health problems, including hypothyroidism, rheumatoid arthritis or lupus. “We call this a diagnosis of exclusion,” she explained.
There also is no cure for fibromyalgia. Helping patients function better and improve their quality of life is the main treatment goal, she says.
“Treatment starts with patient education because self-care is vital in reducing the symptoms of fibromyalgia,” Dr. Razzouk said. “Adopting healthy lifestyle habits such as eating healthy foods, maintaining a healthy weight, exercising, reducing stress and practicing mindfulness are essential components of a comprehensive treatment plan. And because fatigue is a key characteristic of fibromyalgia, getting sufficient sleep also is important.”
The American Pain Society recommends fibromyalgia patients get moderately intense aerobic exercise at least two or three times a week. Among the best exercises are walking, biking, swimming, water aerobics as well as tai chi, which was identified in a recent study as the ideal exercise for patients with fibromyalgia. Dr. Razzouk says some patients also benefit from physical therapy, medications and alternative therapies such as therapeutic massage and acupuncture.
“The key to fighting fibromyalgia is finding the right combination of healthy lifestyle habits and therapies that help patients combat fatigue, manage pain and feel better,” said Dr. Razzouk.