1st blood test for fibromyalgia could provide patients answers

Researchers say lab test appears to diagnose with near 100% accuracy

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Many of the estimated 4 million or more Americans living with the widespread pain and fatigue of fibromyalgia struggle to get a diagnosis and effective treatment. 

Because lab tests often appear normal in these patients, doctors must rely on patients’ symptoms, results from physical exams and the exclusion of other diseases to come to a fibromyalgia diagnosis. 

Experts estimate about 75 percent of fibroymyalgia cases are undiagnosed, while others live with pain for years, often receiving treatment that's ineffective or even harmful.

“Many of the patients with chronic opiate use turn out to have underlying fibromyalgia. So in fact, if that was recognized, then we could realize that we can stem the tide of treating them inappropriately with opiates,” said Dr. Kevin Hackshaw, lead author of the study and associate professor of rheumatology at Ohio State.

Now, researchers at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center finally have biologic evidence of the disease through a new experimental testing method that can quickly and accurately diagnose fibromyalgia, while differentiating it from other chronic pain conditions.  

“Being able to see the biological differences in the blood of those with fibromyalgia compared to those with other conditions like lupus, osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis finally gives patients validation of their symptoms,” Hackshaw said. “Not only does this help us direct treatment, but also prevents the use of unnecessary medications, like opiates, that don’t alleviate fibromyalgia pain and can lead to addiction.”

A researcher tests blood to identify fibromyalgia. (Courtesy of The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center)
A researcher tests blood to identify fibromyalgia. (Courtesy of The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center)

The laboratory test, which uses just a few drops of blood, was developed in a unique collaboration between rheumatologists and the Ohio State food science and technology department. 

Researchers found that the same technology used to quickly analyze different components in food, like protein and fat, can also analyze chemicals in the blood. 

“Each person’s blood is unique, like a fingerprint, and this test can show us the intricate details of that fingerprint,” said Dr. Luis Rodriguez-Saona, co-author of the study and professor of food science and technology at Ohio State. “Now, we can see that certain patterns in those fingerprints indicate fibromyalgia, while different ones signal other conditions.”

Future research will validate the test further and hopefully lead to a widely available blood test that can be used in doctors’ offices so that patients can receive a diagnosis in minutes with just a finger prick.

Identifying these biological characteristics may also help experts develop novel therapies to treat fibromyalgia.