Researchers have discovered a new blood test for fibromyalgia (FM) that could pave the way for doctors to provide a faster, more accurate fibromyalgia diagnosis. The new study, published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, successfully identified biomarkers for fibromyalgia and was able to differentiate it from other diseases with similar symptoms.
Study Methods and Results
The objective of the study was to develop a rapid biomarker-based method for diagnosing FM by using vibrational spectroscopy to differentiate FM patients from those with rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis and systemic lupus erythematosus.
Of the 121 study participants, 50 had been diagnosed with fibromyalgia using the American College of Rheumatology criteria. Other participants included 29 diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, 19 with osteoarthritis and 23 with lupus.
Vibrational spectroscopy is a method of identifying a chemical compound by measuring its vibrational energy. Every compound has a unique vibrational energy or “metabolic fingerprint.” Using vibrational spectroscopy, researchers were able to accurately classify all participants according to their diagnoses.
“We found clear, reproducible metabolic patterns in the blood of dozens of patients with fibromyalgia,” said lead researcher Kevin Hackshaw, an associate professor in Ohio State’s College of Medicine and a rheumatologist at the university’s Wexner Medical Center.
The study authors concluded that “vibrational spectroscopy may provide a reliable diagnostic test for differentiating FM from other disorders and for establishing serologic biomarkers of FM-associated pain.”
Benefits of a Blood Test for Fibromyalgia
The first and most obvious benefit of having reliable testing for fibromyalgia is that it would allow doctors to provide an early and accurate diagnosis. It is thought that as many as three out of four sufferers may not yet have been diagnosed. And those who have been diagnosed report that it took an average of five years from the onset of symptoms to diagnosis.
Although there are a number of fibromyalgia symptoms, the illness is best and most often characterized by chronic widespread pain. However, chronic pain can also be a symptom of quite a few different chronic illnesses. So, having a blood test available that is able to differentiate between FM and other chronic pain diseases would enable doctors to provide better, more appropriate treatment options.
Hacksaw said he believes that the identification of FM biomarkers could potentially lead to more targeted fibromyalgia treatments. The best treatments for fibromyalgia currently being recommended by physicians include three FDA-approved drugs and exercise. Unfortunately, the drugs—Lyrica, Cymbalta and Savella—only work for a small percentage of patients and all three have undesirable side effects. And while studies have shown that exercise does help reduce some FM symptoms, the initial pain and fatigue patients experience when attempting to exercise often deters them from continuing.
One more benefit of this blood test would be additional evidence for those in the medical profession who still insist that fibromyalgia is not real—despite years of solid research proving otherwise. “Most physicians nowadays don’t question whether fibromyalgia is real, but there are still skeptics out there,” Hackshaw said. Maybe proof of a metabolic fingerprint for FM would convince a few more of those skeptics.
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Other Blood Tests for Fibromyalgia
This is not the first FM blood test to be developed. Two other diagnostic tests are currently available:
- In 2012, EpicGenetics introduced the FM/a® Test, an FDA-compliant blood test based on identifying the unique immunologic patterns in fibromyalgia. It is 95% accurate and is covered by Medicare and most insurance plans.
- In 2018, IQuity introduced the IsolateFibromyalgia® test, which relies on RNA gene expression to identify fibromyalgia. It is 94% accurate but is not yet covered my most insurance plans.
Even though there are already two blood tests for FM on the market, some doctors remain skeptical of their accuracy. Perhaps the third test will be the charm.
When Will the Test Be Available?
While the results of this study are very promising, this is just the first step in the process. This was a relatively small study. Additional larger studies will need to be done to confirm the findings. Hopefully, there will also be studies that include other chronic pain illnesses to make sure this test can differentiate among more than just the three diseases included this time.
Hacksaw said his goal is to have this test available for widespread use in the next five years.
Karen Lee Richards is ProHealth’s Editor-in-Chief. A fibromyalgia patient herself, she co-founded the nonprofit organization now known as the National Fibromyalgia Association (NFA) in 1997 and served as its vice-president for eight years. She was also the executive editor of Fibromyalgia AWARE magazine. After leaving the NFA, Karen served as the Guide to Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Syndrome for the New York Times website About.com, then worked for eight years as the Chronic Pain Health Guide for The HealthCentral Network before coming to ProHealth. To learn more about Karen, see “Meet Karen Lee Richards.”
Hackshaw KV, et al. Metabolic fingerprinting for diagnosis of fibromyalgia and other rheumatologic disorders. Journal of Biological Chemistry. December 2018. doi: 10.1074/jbc.RA118.005816.
Crane, M. Experimental blood test accurately spots fibromyalgia. The Ohio State University. March 18, 2019. https://news.osu.edu/experimental-blood-test-accurately-spots-fibromyalgia/
Behm FG, et al. Unique immunologic patterns in fibromyalgia. BMC Clinical Pathology. December 2012. doi: 10.1186/1472-6890-12-25.