Currently, a fibromyalgia diagnosis is a "diagnosis of elimination" based on self-reported symptoms. And research suggests that, because of this fibromyalgia is often misdiagnosed and under diagnosed. That may soon be a thing of the past. Eventually, fibromyalgia could be diagnosed with a blood test, a new study says. Research conducted by The Ohio State University and published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry found "evidence that fibromyalgia can be reliably detected in blood samples."
The experimental blood test identified what researchers called "a metabolic fingerprint" present in fibromyalgia patients. "We found clear, reproducible metabolic patterns in the blood of dozens of patients with fibromyalgia. This brings us much closer to a blood test than we have ever been," lead researcher Kevin Hackshaw, a professor in Ohio State's College of Medicine and a rheumatologist at the university's Wexner Medical Center, said in a press release.
What's more, being able to correctly identify the chronic disease opens up opportunities to study effective treatments. "These initial results are remarkable. If we can help speed diagnosis for these patients, their treatment will be better and they'll likely have better outlooks. There's nothing worse than being in a gray area where you don't know what disease you have," study co-author Luis Rodriguez-Saona said.
During the experiments, which looked at 50 subjects with fibromyalgia and 71 with other chronic illnesses, researchers were able to detect clear patterns in fibromyalgia patients' blood samples that differed from those with similar disorders. Because three in four people with fibromyalgia are misdiagnosed, according to the study, being able to identify the disease with a blood test could be a game changer.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reported on its website that common symptoms of fibromyalgia include widespread chronic pain, extreme fatigue, changes in mood, trouble concentrating, and memory loss. The symptoms can be so debilitating that they can affect patients' abilities to perform daily tasks.
The press release noted that there is an average of five years between the onset of symptoms and an appropriate diagnosis. This is the time it took Lady Gaga to be diagnosed with fibromyalgia, as is detailed in the documentary Gaga: Five Foot Two. This proves that even those with access to the best doctors in the world can still have trouble receiving a proper diagnosis. Some patients are never diagnosed, and are often referred to pain clinics.
"When you look at chronic pain clinics, about 40 percent of patients on opioids meet the diagnostic criteria for fibromyalgia. Fibromyalgia [pain] often gets worse, and certainly doesn't get better, with opioids," Hacksaw said.
According to the USDHHS, fibromyalgia is not progressive and does not damage joints. However, it is a chronic condition and patients can experience worsening pain if the disease is left untreated. Accurate detection of the disease could help fibromyalgia patients get treatment sooner.
In addition to pain medication, fibromyalgia is currently treated with physical therapy, relaxation techniques, antidepressants, diet changes, and talk therapy. Those with fibromyalgia are also advised to get enough sleep, avoid caffeine, alcohol, and spicy food in the hours before bedtime, and take steps to reduce stress, which can cause fibromyalgia flare ups. Even with all of these recommendations, patients can experience persistent symptoms, which is why this new discovery is so important.
"This could lead to better, more directed treatment for patients," Hacksaw said, adding that the goal is to have this test readily available within five years.