Trauma and fibromyalgia: could Kavanaugh have triggered Lena Dunham’s flare-up?

The Girls writer and star says she experienced a reactivation of the condition after the supreme court confirmation. That is not as ‘crazy’ as she fears

If you felt physically sick at Brett Kavanaugh’s appointment to the supreme court, you are not alone. Lena Dunham, the writer, and star of the HBO series Girls, links a flare-up of her fibromyalgia to Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s allegations of Kavanaugh’s abuse. She told her Instagram followers: “It felt like every cell in my neck was singing … Yesterday, I felt like I was suspended in the gel, and when I meditated a line of pain zipped from my neck to my foot.” With such a collection of symptoms, Dunham admits: “It’s hard to shake the feeling I am crazy.” But this is fibromyalgia, a chronic pain condition with no known cause and unclear pathophysiology (no one knows what functional changes in the body cause its manifestation). Symptoms include widespread muscle pain and tenderness, headaches, tingling and numbness in the limbs, overwhelming fatigue and discomfort with light or noise. People with fibromyalgia are often hypersensitive to painful stimuli and women are affected more than men.

So could Dunham’s fibromyalgia have been “reactivated”, as she claims, by the stress of Kavanaugh’s appointment? The condition is thought to be a central nervous system disorder of pain regulation. Those people with fibromyalgia are hypersensitive suggests that the brain is not processing pain properly. It fails to distinguish between what should and should not hurt.

Genetics are partly to blame, with siblings of those with fibromyalgia being more than 13 times more likely to have the condition than those without. But the evidence for stress acting as a trigger is “scarce and rather conflicting”, according to Belgian researchers. Some studies show that people with Fibromyalgia are more likely than others to have experienced childhood sexual, physical or emotional abuse. One study found no increase in symptoms of fibromyalgia after the New York terror attacks but concluded that only stressors with a “strong personal significance” might trigger or reactivate the condition. So Dunham isn’t “crazy” – she really may feel this appointment so personally that it’s physically painful.

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