Modern Australian

what is fibromyalgia, the condition Lady Gaga lives with?

  • Written by Michael Musker, Senior Research Fellow, South Australian Health & Medical Research Institute

At least one in ten of us suffer some sort of troublesome, long-term (chronic) pain. But not all have fibromyalgia.

People with fibromyalgia have chronic widespread pain — including musculoskeletal aches, pain and stiffness, and soft tissue tenderness — in many areas across the body.

This affects other systems like the brain, impacting a person’s ability to concentrate and remember things. People who have fibromyalgia often refer to this as the “fibro fog”. It can affect sleep patterns, emotions, and many other aspects of everyday living.

Fibromyalgia is a condition singers Lady Gaga and Sinead O'Connor, and actor Morgan Freeman live with.

So what causes fibromyalgia? How does it differ from other types of chronic pain? How is it diagnosed and treated?

What causes fibromyalgia?

When investigations can find no other cause for widespread chronic pain, it’s generally diagnosed as fibromyalgia.

We don’t know exactly what causes fibromyalgia, but genetics, environment, hormonal and neural (brain and central nervous system) factors are all believed to play a role. Research indicates genes may be responsible for up to 50% of susceptibility to the condition. The latest research indicates the body’s immune system is involved, too.

An online survey of 596 people with fibromyalgia found a few common causes reported by participants. Around two thirds of people could relate the start of their symptoms to a specific incident or event, such as a physical injury, a period of sickness that might have involved surgery, or a stressful life event.

Notably, many of those surveyed said they experienced negativity and stigma when trying to explain and authenticate their symptoms to professionals, their families, and their communities.

Who is affected?

Fibromyalgia affects around 2% of the world’s population. A recent literature review showed the frequency of fibromyalgia in the general population was between 0.2 and 6.6%. It’s often reported as higher in women, at a ratio of three to one.

The World Health Organisation recognised fibromyalgia as a disease in 1994. Since then, doctors have debated how fibromyalgia should be diagnosed and who should diagnose it, leading to the so-called “fibro wars”. It continues to be controversial.

Read more: Hidden and unexplained: feeling the pain of fibromyalgia

The latest version of the International Classification of Diseases says for someone to be diagnosed with fibromyalgia, there needs to be pain in “at least 4 of 5 body regions and is associated with significant emotional distress”.

The American College of Rheumatology devised a widely accepted test which looks for 11 points from 18 potential tender points of pain from areas across the body using what’s called the widespread pain index.

How is it treated?

Everyone experiences treatments differently, and what works for one person may not work for another. But the main treatments focus on pain relief.

The drugs pregabalin and duloxetine work by altering the neurotransmitters in the brain (gamma amino butyric acid and serotonin), and are effective for many people.

Read more: How support groups can boost your health and make chronic conditions easier to live with

There are many other options including medication specifically for pain (analgesics), muscle relaxants (benzodiazepines), or treatments to address nerve or spinal pain (neuropathic treatments).

Many of these medications can have side effects, including constipation, or allergic reactions like digestive upset or inflammation. They can also be addictive. Always be honest with your GP about what painkillers you’re taking so they can help you safely manage your pain.

Another common treatment is using a TENS machine (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation). This involves applying pads around the area of pain, or the nerves that might be sending the pain message, and interfering with these using small electrical pulses.

what is fibromyalgia, the condition Lady Gaga lives with? Some patients find therapy with a TENS machine helpful, where pads are placed on the body and electrical pulses applied. from www.shutterstock.com

This effective treatment is thought to increase levels of endorphins produced by the brain and spinal cord to provide pain relief. But the effects may weaken with ongoing use.

It’s important to check with your doctor if TENS treatment is appropriate because it might affect pacemakers or people with epilepsy.

Fibromyalgia can also be treated with physical interventions such as heat therapy, massage and vibration therapy. Acupuncture and treatment from a psychologist are other options.

Read more: Pain drain: the economic and social costs of chronic pain

How about the future?

In time, we might be able to look for diagnostic immune markers for fibromyalgia in our genetic material to help find who might be at risk of developing the condition, and take preventative action.

Many of the symptoms of fibromyalgia can be found in people who have a condition known as myalgic encephalomyelitis, or chronic fatigue syndrome. Our research is currently looking at the blood of people with fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome to see if there are specific inflammatory markers that may help us understand how these illnesses develop.

If we can understand the interaction of the immune system with pain and inflammation, then we can begin to target treatments more effectively for people living with fibromyalgia.

If you or someone you know has fibromyalgia, resources and support are available from Arthritis Australia and the US National Fibromyalgia Association.

Authors: Michael Musker, Senior Research Fellow, South Australian Health & Medical Research Institute

Read more http://theconversation.com/explainer-what-is-fibromyalgia-the-condition-lady-gaga-lives-with-116729

NEWS

VIDEO: Michelle Grattan on the government's drought policy

Michelle Grattan says the announcement of extra money for drought-stricken farmers "won't be enough" to alleviate pressure on the government on the issue of drought. ShutterstockUniversity of Canberra Deputy Vice-Chancellor...

Our ability to manufacture minerals could transform the gem market, medical industries and even help suck carbon from the air

Pictured is a slag pile at Broken Hill in New South Wales. Slag is a man-made waste product created during smelting. Anita Parbhakar-Fox, Author providedLast month, scientists uncovered a mineral...

Lambie stays mute on medevac vote after Senate inquiry splits on party lines

Jacqui Lambie has yet to announce whether she will support the bill to have medevac repealed.AAP/Mick TsikasThe Senate inquiry into repealing medevac has predictably split along party lines, with the...

Sydney's 9,189 'sister politicians' who petitioned Queen Victoria

One spring morning in 1850, over 8,000 Sydneysiders marched through town to protest the resumption of transportation – the act of sending British criminals to Australia. It was the largest...

A pioneering climate scientist skilled in the art of life

Penny Whetton, right, addressing a March for Science rally. Her death last month shocked and saddened colleagues.Supplied by familyLast month we lost Dr Penny Whetton - one of the world’s...

​The Coalition government is (again) trying to put the squeeze on the ABC

The Coalition government has reintroduced a bill seeking to mandate the ABC devote more resources to covering regional Australia – a measure that has been defeated before by parliament.Danny Casey/AAPOne...

Is your horse normal? Now there’s an app for that

Vet: are you happy? Horse: neigh.evilgurl/Flickr, CC BY-NC-SASince ancient times, horse behaviour, and the bond between horses and humans, has been a source of intrigue and fascination. The horse-lore that...

Vital signs. Our compulsory super system is broken. We ought to axe it, or completely reform it

We're taking money from people, letting it fall through the cracks, and spending no less than we were on pensions.ShutterstockThe just-announced inquiry into Australia’s retirement income system ought to be...

Might consciousness and free will be the aces up our sleeves when it comes to competing with robots?

Our advantage lies in incommensurables, and it'll grow in importance.Franck V. on UnsplashThe rise of artificial intelligence has led to widespread concern about the role of humans in the workplaces...

What is perimenopause and how does it affect women's health in midlife?

Perimenopause lasts months for some women, and years for others. from www.shutterstock.comAll women know to expect the time in life when their periods finish and they reach menopause. Many might...

a road trip reveals local museums stuck in a rut

Berry, and other tourist towns, are out of step with modern museum curation which is trying to include Aboriginal communities and their stories. ShutterstockAboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are...

Curious Kids: how are stars made?

Stars come into existence because of a powerful force of nature called gravity.ESA/Hubble & NASA, Acknowledgement: Judy SchmidtIf you have a question you’d like an expert to answer, send it...

Popular articles from Modern Australian

5 Italian Designers That Every Australian Should Have in Their Closet9 Effective Ways to Support your Mitochondria and Boost EnergyImportance of Skincare and Skin ChecksHow to Save Money on Heating in AustraliaBest Out of Waste in New South WalesGlamorous Gifts - 5 Luxe Giving Options When Only the Best Will DoFood for collagenIs Rhinoplasty Right for You?Winter fun in ColoradoSlots SecretsEssential Personal Hygiene Tips for TravelingTop 3 Affordable Activities To Do In Los AngelesTop 4 Reasons Why a Gas Fireplace Is an Ideal SolutionAdvantages of Using an Insulin PumpMaths – when it’s time to break free of your misbeliefs