Lady Gaga’s Upcoming Documentary Pulls Back the Curtain On Her Health Problems

Lady Gaga postponed the European leg of her Joanne World Tour because of her chronic pain. She also postponed concerts in Rio and Montreal recently. Lady Gaga is suffering from severe physical pain that has impacted her ability to perform,” Live Nation said. “She remains under the care of expert medical professionals who recommended the postponement.”

While she has not announced new tour dates, Gaga speaks openly about her condition on social media in advance of her new documentary. Here’s what we know so far.

Gaga suffers from fibromyalgia

Lady Gaga appears at the Grammys

Superstar Lady Gaga recently confirmed her diagnosis | Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images

The singer confirmed her fibromyalgia diagnosis on Twitter on Sept. 12. She tweeted, “In our documentary the #chronicillness #chronicpain I deal w/ is #Fibromyalgia. I wish to help raise awareness & connect people who have it.”

“There is an element and a very strong piece of me that believes pain is a microphone,” Gaga said at a press conference. “My pain really does me no good unless I transform it into something that is. I hope that people watching it that struggle with chronic pain know they are not alone.”

Fibromyalgia, much like Gaga herself, often inspires controversy.  

Her illness is widespread, but often misunderstood

Lady Gaga at Oscars

Lady Gaga, shown at the Oscars, uses her platform for advocacy | Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images

According to the Mayo Clinic, fibromyalgia presents with widespread pain accompanied by fatigue, sleep, memory, and mood problems. Researchers believe fibromyalgia interferes with the way the brain processes pain signals.

Fibromyalgia affects 5 million Americans 18 or older, the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases reports. Women represent between 80 and 90% of people diagnosed with fibromyalgia. Men and children can also contract the disease. No cure yet exists and treatments vary widely, depending on the patient’s individual symptoms.

Experts don’t know what causes fibromyalgia in the first place. Dr. Vernon Williams, M.D., told researchers do have some theories. The director of the Kerlan-Jobe Center for Sports Neurology and Pain Medicine said the disease may present with endocrine or immune system abnormalities. Fibromyalgia often follows some type of psychological or physical trauma. However, doctors still know very little about how those events affect the body.

The disease tends to develop over months or years. Fibromyalgia diagnoses come by process of elimination, according to the Mayo Clinic. Doctors can diagnose fibromyalgia if the patient has been in pain for more than three months and other tests rule out similar conditions. In a scene from her new documentary, Gaga appears in a hospital gown. She has posted several times on social media about how she deals with her condition. As with her past causes, Gaga uses her social platforms to connect with her fan base.

Gaga takes to social media to share her struggles

Lady Gaga on Instagram

Lady Gaga talks about her latest struggles | Instagram

Her fibromyalgia diagnosis, so far, does not deviate from that. Gaga makes it a point to speak directly to her fans via Instagram, Twitter, and her own website.

“I was so overwhelmed by the empathy, confessions & personal stories of chronic pain in response to my previous post, I thought what the hell,” she posted on Instagram. “Maybe I should just share some of my personal remedies I’ve acquired over the past five years. Everyone’s body and condition is different U should consult w ur Dr. but what the heck here we go!”

In a series of Instagram posts, Gaga described her treatment plan. She shared a photo of herself in an infrared sauna wrapped in silver emergency blankets. The singer additionally noted cold baths and ice packs sometimes help. As in the past, Gaga said she draws strength from her fan base.

Gaga uses her powers for good

Lady Gaga reading statement

Longtime LGBTQ advocate Lady Gaga reads a statement for Pulse victims | David McNew/Getty Images

“Hope this helps some of you. It helps me to keep doing my passion, job and the things I love even on days when I feel like I can’t get out of bed,” she wrote on Instagram. “Love you and thank you for all your positive messages.”

Some experts call Lady Gaga’s use of social media for activism revolutionary. A study published in the International Journal of Cultural Studies also examined the phenomenon. “Our findings suggest both that fans can be deeply impacted by celebrities’ political values and actions, particularly when expressed through social media, and that the online, networked fan communities that develop around celebrities are socially supportive and politically engaged,” the study posited. 

Gaga founded the Born This Way foundation to help empower and help support LGBTQ youth. The site’s Research and Resources page reads, “we believe research is a powerful tool we can leverage to help solve the problems facing our communities and build a kinder, braver world. That’s why we work with leading experts to conduct and amplify quality research and ensure all of our programming is grounded in the latest scientific evidence.”

Gaga’s community-building spirit only helps those who suffer from the same disease. Celebrity endorsements legitimize everything from products to causes, and Gaga serves as a prime example of the effect. Here’s how that will work.

Gaga can help find a cure for her own disease

Lady Gaga at press event

Lady Gaga’s no stranger to using her platform | Valerie Macon/AFP/Getty Images

After canceling the European leg of her tour, Gaga continued the conversation on Instagram. She wrote, “I have always been honest about my physical and mental health struggles … As I get stronger and feel ready, I will tell my story more in 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.”

That advocacy might help get fibromyalgia and other chronic diseases better funding from the National Institute of Health. That funding, as a result, leads to better treatments, or even a cure for the disease. A two-part article on Health Rising investigated why these conditions get such poor attention. Even though the NIH spends about $440 million per year on the bottom 40 diseases, fibromyalgia is the 18th worst-funded.  

“Give the NIH a visibly crippling disease that causes mortality and it will be all over it,” that article said. “Give it an ‘invisible’ disorder that causes significant disability and causes major economic losses but does not kill and it will mostly ignore it.”

Fibromyalgia’s controversial history doesn’t help its fundability. According to an article in the Pittsburgh Health Care Report, “one in four doctors feels that all these patients are faking, and that [fibromyalgia] doesn’t even exist … Even doctors who believe their patients aren’t faking, mostly believe that they’re merely depressed.”

The condition needs research to find a cure, and Gaga’s early statements suggest she’ll work to find it. Her new record may pose a start.

Gaga’s Joanne nods to her condition

Lady Gaga poses for Joanne in a pink suit and hat

Lady Gaga’s Joanne album honors her late aunt | Behrouz Mehri/AFP/Getty Images

Gaga’s October 2016 album travels a wide musical map. NPR wrote of that release, “this is Gaga without the bells and whistles, wearing a mask that looks like her own face.” The album marks Gaga’s first solo record in three years, and its inspiration is intensely personal.  Joanne is one of Gaga’s middle names. Her birth name is Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, but the record actually pays tribute to her late aunt, Joanne Germanotta. Germanotta died of lupus, a chronic immune system disease, before Gaga was born. Even though the singer never met her, the woman influenced her greatly, The Telegraph reported.  

“I never met her, but she’s been one of the most important figures in my life,” Gaga said. She wears her aunt’s death date tattooed on her arm. The album is not only named for her, but the title track features a dedication as well. She sings, “every part of my aching heart needs you more than the angels do.”

Germanotta’s life has influenced Gaga’s music throughout her career, Mic said. “What I know of Joanne is what she left behind, which was a lot of loss and a lot of tragedy in my family.” Gaga added that a sexual assault, “tormented [Joanne] so emotionally that it caused the lupus that she had.”  

In her new documentary, Gaga continues sharing that story.

New documentary peels back the curtain

Lady Gaga at film premier

Lady Gaga appeared at the premiere of her new documentary | Geoff Robins/AFP/Getty Images

In her Netflix documentary, Gaga: Five Foot Two, she discusses her diagnosis and coping methods. The film also addresses Joanne, her Super Bowl halftime show, American Horror Story, and her split with Taylor Kinney. The full documentary, screened at the Toronto Film Festival, comes out Sept. 22.

Early reviews for the film call it “a brisk and infectious verité portrait.” Variety writes, “I found the film intensely revealing of Gaga’s life and personality, especially when she’s getting treatments to deal with the pain that’s dogged her for three years. As her body gets worked over by a massage therapist, she talks about a rope of agony extending through her, right up to her head, and the way she describes it we can feel how that rope connects physical to mental pain.”

Gaga’s new documentary reveals the woman behind the mask with plenty of glitz and glamour. The same way she’s used past trauma to help advocate for survivors, she will likely do the same with her chronic pain.