WASHINGTON - Millions of people live with the constant pain of fibromyalgia. It's a disorder that's often misdiagnosed. And while lab tests can help identify a lot of diseases, until recently there was no test for fibromyalgia. Now, a simple blood test could finally give these patients scientific proof of their condition.
Constant pain is a symptom of fibromyalgia. Barb Hartong suffered from this disorder for a long time before she finally got the right diagnosis.
"It was almost a relief because I finally knew what was wrong with me," Hartong said.
Fibromyalgia is a disorder with symptoms of widespread muscle and joint pain, accompanied by fatigue and problems with sleep, memory and mood. Researchers believe that with fibromyalgia, the brain amplifies the pain signals it gets.
About 75 percent of those who suffer from fibromyalgia are undiagnosed. Some people live with pain for years. Many patients receive treatment that's ineffective or even harmful.
Researchers at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center formed a multi-disciplinary team to see if they could develop a laboratory test to diagnose this disorder and make it easier for patients to get some relief.
Dr. Kevin Hackshaw led the study.
"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," Hackshaw said.
The result was a simple blood test that could diagnose fibromyalgia with nearly 100 percent accuracy. Hackshaw worked with researchers at the Ohio State food science and technology department. They found that same technology used to quickly analyze different components in food, like protein and fat, can also analyze chemicals in the blood. Dr. Luis Rodriguez-Saona was the study's co-author.
"We use infrared in many companies to determine protein, fat, moisture, starch levels, fiber in seconds," Rodriguez-Saona said.
Rodriguez-Saona says each person's blood is unique, like a fingerprint, and this test can show the intricate details of that fingerprint. It can distinguish fibromyalgia from other chronic pain conditions with nearly 100 percent accuracy.
The test uses a color-coded computer program.
"The brown colored squares, these belong to the fibromyalgia, the red ones are rheumatoid arthritis and the green ones are lupus," Rodriguez-Saona said.
Hackshaw says when people learn the results they feel relieved just like Barb Hartong did.
"A test like this provides confirmation and validation of the symptoms they've been suffering for years,” Hackshaw said.
There is no cure for fibromyalgia, but medication, exercise and stress reduction measures can help control the symptoms. Hartong takes medication and sticks to a daily routine.
"It's not just giving me a pill, it's how do I live? For me, it's exercise," Hartong said.
The researchers now want to use the test on a larger group of patients to see if they get the same results. If the test is approved, doctors will be able to diagnose fibromyalgia instantly and save patients years of suffering.