Saturday, 27 July 2013

A Blood Test For Fibromyalgia - Coming Soon?

What is Fibromyalgia?

Fibromyalgia is a complex, frustrating and often chronic disorder that can seriously interfere with a person's life. It's actually a syndrome and can produce many symptoms, including widespread muscle and skeletal pain, memory loss the ("fibro fog"), disrupted sleep patterns and fatigue. Pain often increases when certain spots on the body, known as tender points, are pressed. Other conditions frequently accompany fibromyalgia, including chronic fatigue, which may be severe, migraines and irritable bowel syndrome. The situation can be so debilitating that on many days it's hard for a person to get out of bed to leave their home or go to school or work. Naturally enough, some people experience depression as an additional symptom of the syndrome. According to the National Institute of Health, about five million people in the United States suffer from fibromyalgia.

Migraines may accompany fibromyalgia syndrome.
Photo by David Castillo Dominici,
Fibromyalgia Frustrations

There are other frustrations related to fibromyalgia in addition to the disorder itself. Sometimes it's hard to get a doctor to treat a patient seriously, because at the moment there's no test that will "prove" that a person has fibromyalgia. Some doctors do what to help their patients and send them to get a wide variety of diagnostic tests for other conditions with similar symptoms, most or all of which give negative results. It may take years before a doctor diagnoses fibromyalgia and before a patient finds a doctor who is experienced in its treatment.

The diagnosis is generally based on a person having unexplained pain for at least three months and not being diagnosed with another condition that may be causing the symptoms. Some doctors - but not all - also use the existence of tender points as a basis for diagnosis. There's no cure for fibromyalgia yet, but there are treatments that improve the condition for many people.

Fibromyalgia patients sometimes find themselves in the state that my sister is in now. She has her relatively good days, when she can leave the house and do the things that she wants or needs to do, but she also has bad periods. During these periods she can't accomplish much. The medications that she's taking do help, but they're not a cure.

Diagnosing Fibromyalgia with a Blood Test

Fibromyalgia discomfort
Photo by stockarch at
Fibromyalgia patients would love a cure for their condition.  An easy way to diagnose fibromyalgia would be great, too. The sooner the diagnosis, the sooner possibly helpful treatments can begin.

Researchers at the Wexner Medical Center in Ohio have just announced that by using a person's blood sample, a procedure called infrared microspectroscopy and a computer, they can analyze blood and diagnose fibromyalgia correctly.

Infrared Microspectroscopy and Blood Analysis

In infrared microspectroscopy, infrared light is shone on blood (or on another material that is being analyzed). Some wavelengths of the light are absorbed by the blood and others are transmitted through it. The system picks up the light that passes through the blood and sends the information to a computer. The computer uses the information to create a graph called an infrared spectrum or IR spectrum. The pattern in this spectrum depends on the molecules that are present in the blood.

The researchers at Wexner Medical Center "trained" their system to recognize IR spectrums associated with different health conditions. They obtained blood from 14 fibromyalgia patients, 15 rheumatoid arthritis patients and 12 osteoarthritis patients for the training period. The system was then able to correctly diagnose new patients based on their blood sample. The system was 100% accurate, with no false results.

The researchers don't know what molecules were creating the distinctive IR spectrum in the blood of the fibromyalgia patients, but it's significant that there was a distinctive pattern. The experiment needs to be repeated with more people. Nevertheless, the results are very interesting. They offer the possibility of an early diagnosis and treatment of fibromyalgia. It will be very interesting to learn about future developments in the analysis of blood from fibromyalgia patients.