Kirsty Young health: 'I felt pathetic' – star on her crippling four-year health battle

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“It’s a unique moment. We’ll never see it again, certainly in our lifetimes and maybe never, so I couldn’t resist,” Young said when asked about her upcoming role within the Jubilee. With four days of live broadcasts ahead, the first of which starts today (Thursday, June 2), Young is jumping straight back into the deep end, a stark contrast from 2018 when she thought she might never work again. Recently the former Desert Island Discs presenter opened up about the chronic health conditions that she has been battling for the past four years and the “blind alleys” she was sent down by medics before receiving the right treatment.

In 2018 the star was diagnosed with fibromyalgia, a serious condition that causes “pain all over the body”, as described by the NHS.

Speaking honestly about her ordeal, Young revealed that the pain, and subsequent other symptoms, were sometimes so bad it felt like she had been hit “with a baseball bat” and “drugged”.

First noticing symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis, which went on to cause fibromyalgia, Young said: “I had extreme joint pain.

“I’d wake up and I’d feel like I’d got glass in my joints. In the morning, I felt like somebody had come in with a baseball bat and given me a ‘doing’, as we say in Glasgow, in the night.”

READ MORE: Arthritis breakthrough: Research may have found a way to treat and even reverse arthritis

Suffering from disrupted sleep due to the immense pain, Young would then have to cope with crippling tiredness during the day.

“I couldn’t walk up the stairs without stopping in the middle,” she continued to explain.

“It’s not like tiredness if you’ve had a big walk or done some gardening. It’s like somebody had drugged me, like you’d taken a sleeping tablet at the wrong time in the day and you were completely losing it.”

The NHS explains that the exact cause of fibromyalgia is unknown, but it is thought to be related to “abnormal levels of certain chemicals in the brain” and specific changes in the way the brain, spinal cord and nerves process pain messages carried around the body.

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For some individuals, fibromyalgia can be triggered by a physically or emotionally stressful event. The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) list rheumatoid arthritis as one of the main risk factors for the condition, along with lupus and older age.

The most characteristic symptom of fibromyalgia is an increased sensitivity to pain, with something as simple as touching the sides of a sofa with their forearm enough to bring an adult to tears. Young explained that the term “fibro fog” is used to describe the distortion between reality and not, as individuals think they are dealing with “pain all the time”.

She said: “I remember I picked up a bottle of water and it was too heavy for me. I dropped it and it smashed to the ground. The kids laughed but I could feel tears in my eyes. I felt pathetic that I couldn’t even lift a bottle of water. I just felt totally physically incapable.”

Other potential symptoms that can develop as a result of the condition include:

  • Extreme tiredness (fatigue)
  • Muscle stiffness
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Problems with mental processes (known as “fibro-fog”), such as problems with memory and concentration
  • Headaches
  • Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a digestive condition that causes stomach pain and bloating.

Young has a condition known as secondary fibromyalgia, which slightly differs from primary fibromyalgia. Although there is no universally agreed-upon definition of the two, Dr Kahler Hench, the originator of the term fibromyalgia, has provided this definition in the past.

“Fibrositis is considered primary when there is no associated underlying disorder and secondary when it occurs in patients with underlying rheumatic or other organic disease.”

Despite the slightly different causes of primary and secondary fibromyalgia, research has found that they both cause similar symptoms. However, those with secondary fibromyalgia may also suffer from another condition, like rheumatoid arthritis, that causes further difficulty.

For Young, it was the combination of both of her conditions that made receiving treatment increasingly complex. Describing her frustrating search for help she said: “The rheumatoid arthritis is more straightforward but my fibromyalgia was muddying the waters.

“I had the wrong medics and the wrong medication and they were treating things that weren’t there.”

After a painstakingly long battle, Young finally found one physician who said although he could not cure the conditions, he could help her manage them. However, there was a heartbreaking catch, the star had to give up her job.

With a “complex cocktail” of medication, seeing her doctor every three weeks and taking up yoga and meditation, Young has managed to get her condition under control after four years.

Remarkably, the star went on to explain how the whole ordeal has given her a new outlook on life. She added: “I’m off most of my medications but that’s four years, that’s how long it’s taken, and I did all the things that I was told to. I’m an absolute boring nut about my gut biome now. I could bore the knickers off you on that.”

Although Young was able to afford private healthcare to manage her condition, for those on the NHS, fibromyalgia treatment tends to be a combination of the following:

  • Medicine, such as antidepressants and painkillers
  • Talking therapies, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and counselling
  • Lifestyle changes, such as exercise programmes and relaxation techniques.

Exercise in particular has been found to have a number of important benefits for people with fibromyalgia, including helping to reduce pain.



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