Groundbreaking blood test detects fibromyalgia

woman rubbing her neck as she talks to physician

Ana Sandoiu 
checked by Paula Field
New research finds an accurate
way of diagnosing fibromyalgia and differentiating it from other related
conditions. Using blood samples and innovative techniques, scientists have
detected a “molecular fingerprint” that is unique to the condition.
Fibromyalgia is a chronic
condition that affects 2–8 percent of the worldwide population and
approximately 4 million adults in the United States. Most of the people living
with fibromyalgia are women.
Chronic pain throughout the
body is the main characteristic of fibromyalgia. However, many people with the
condition often experience a wider range of symptoms, which often have
similarities to other conditions.
The fact that the signs and
symptoms of fibromyalgia coincide with those of other disorders makes it
challenging for doctors to diagnose, and often people living with fibromyalgia
“are still sometimes made to feel like it’s all in their head.”
But, new research may have
found a way to rectify this. Scientists have managed to detect fibromyalgia in
blood samples and differentiate it from other similar conditions.
Kevin Hackshaw, a professor in
the College of Medicine at the Ohio State University in Columbus and a
rheumatologist at the university’s Wexner Medical Center, led the new research.
Prof. Hackshaw and his
colleagues published their study in the Journal of Biological Chemistry.
may be ready for use in 5 years
For their research, Prof.
Hackshaw and colleagues recruited 50 people with a formal diagnosis of
fibromyalgia, 29 people with rheumatoid arthritis, 19 with osteoarthritis, and
23 with lupus. These conditions often co-occur with fibromyalgia.
The researchers analyzed blood
samples collected from the study participants using “vibrational
spectroscopy,” which is a technique that measures the chemical bonds and
energy levels of molecules.
The analysis found patterns
that distinguished the blood samples of people with fibromyalgia from those who
had related disorders. Moreover, further spectrometry measurements helped the
scientists accurately predict the participants’ conditions based on their
molecular pattern.
The researchers liken these
molecular signatures with “metabolic fingerprints” and say that these
findings will soon help develop more targeted treatments for fibromyalgia.
“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
Kevin Hackshaw
In fact, Prof. Hackshaw aims
to have the test ready for use within 5 years. Luis Rodriguez-Saona, a
professor of food science and technology at Ohio State and a co-author on the
study, says that the researchers want to examine groups of 150–200 people with
each condition to see whether they can replicate the findings in a larger
population sample.
Further analyses could also
help identify specific proteins that are responsible for fibromyalgia-specific
symptoms. “We can look back into some of these fingerprints and
potentially identify some of the chemicals associated with the differences we
are seeing,” says Prof. Rodriguez-Saona.
importance of an accurate diagnosis
Prof. Hackshaw stresses the
importance of receiving an accurate diagnosis of fibromyalgia, especially since
some doctors still need convincing that fibromyalgia is a real condition.
“Most physicians nowadays
don’t question whether fibromyalgia is real, but there are still skeptics out
there,” says Prof. Hackshaw. Furthermore, some doctors prescribe opioids
to people with fibromyalgia, which may worsen the condition and lead to addiction.
“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.”
Luis Rodriguez-Saona

Finally, the new findings also
suggest that the metabolic fingerprints may offer insights into the severity of
the illness in each patient. “This could lead to better, more directed
treatment for patients,” says Prof. Hackshaw.
Kayode Ojo
Kayode Emmanuel Ojo is the Co-Founder and Managing Director at SHEFFA Limited. He is presently studying Computer Science at the National Open University, Victoria Island, Lagos.