Though fairly well-known, fibromyalgia is one of the most misunderstood physical afflictions we see today. Many people only understand it as general, nondescript muscle pain. In fact, it’s often looked at by some as a catch-all phrase for unexplained pain, while some who do not suffer from it might wonder if it’s really an issue.
In fact, fibromyalgia is real and, for suffers, it can be anywhere from uncomfortable to debilitating. Though it’s often a muscular complaint, it’s actually a neurological disorder, and pain can be felt in any part of the body at any given time, often all over, simultaneously. Fibromyalgia has always been difficult to treat and harder to get a firm diagnosis. This may all be about to change.
Most clinicians agree that fibromyalgia likely affects 2% to 4% of the population, though it’s seven times more commonly found in women of birthing age. Until now, diagnosis has relied on two parts: physical examination for the most common symptoms along with the arduous, lengthy, and sometimes expensive process of testing to eliminate other possible causes of the patient’s complaints.
If the percentage of sufferers seems low, remember that we’re still talking about 5 to 10 million sufferers in the US alone. Additionally note, that because this process is inexact, and there is always the possibility of misdiagnosis. Once a firm medical test is developed and confirmed, this number may likely increase exponentially. It’s currently estimated that three-fourths of those with this condition go undiagnosed.
Many universities have worked to develop a blood test which could definitively diagnose the presence of fibromyalgia (FM). Previous attempts resulted in an extremely expensive test, designated FM/a, which had questionable reliability to diagnose even 1% of possible FM cases. The difficulty, according to the recent article from researchers at Ohio State University, is that reliable biomarkers for the disorder are difficult to pinpoint.
They worked to identify commonalities using methods that differentiated blood samples of patients diagnosed with FM from those of patients with other conditions such as Rheumatoid Arthritis, Osteoarthritis and/or a systemic form of Lupus. This translates to comparing metabolites for FM with conditions that are easier to diagnose and often share some of the same presenting symptoms as FM.
Their positive results imply the research team is very close to affirming an effective diagnosis using “metabolic fingerprinting,” which utilizes vibrational spectroscopy “to establish serologic biomarkers of FM-associated pain.”
While there is currently no cure for fibromyalgia, the usefulness of a definitive diagnosis is legitimate. First, most fibromyalgia patients appreciate validation of their complaints, since family members cannot see evidence of symptoms including pain, intermittent tissue tenderness, fatigue and difficulty in sleep, memory and mental clarity. Rapid diagnosis allows for: early treatments and lifestyle changes to address symptoms, prevents a waste of time, energy, and expense of testing for other conditions first, and promotes the reduction of misdiagnosis and/or undiagnosed cases of fibromyalgia.