Rebekah Eliason for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
Fibromyalgia has long been known as a disorder that is extremely difficult to diagnose, but there is hope on the horizon for those waiting on an answer to their pain. Researchers from Columbus, Ohio have developed a reliable method for diagnosing and differentiating fibromyalgia from other similar pain disorders.
If this diagnostic method was made available for physicians to use as a routine test it could allow doctors to diagnose patients up to five years sooner than current methods.
A pilot study was performed using a specialized technique known as infrared microspectroscopy. Researchers used this technology to identify specific molecules in blood samples from patients with fibromyalgia. After the instrument had been calibrated to recognize the presence of molecules indicating fibromyalgia, it was used to identify the difference between it and two other types of arthritis with similar symptoms.
Further research is necessary to pinpoint exactly which molecules are responsible for the development of fibromyalgia, but the data already collected is promising towards this goal.
Tony Buffington, professor of veterinary clinical sciences, explained, “We’ve got really good evidence of a test that could be an important aid in the diagnosis of fibromyalgia patients. We would like this to lead to an objective test for primary care doctors to use, which could produce a diagnosis as much as five years before it usually occurs.”
Because diagnosing fibromyalgia is such a long and involved process, patients are often desperate for a diagnosis. Since symptoms from the disorder mimic other diseases, physicians are reluctant to diagnose fibromyalgia before ruling out other possibilities. According to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, it is estimated 5 million American adults suffer from the painful disorder which includes symptoms such as persistent pain, fatigue, disrupted sleep and memory or thought problems.
Kevin Hackshaw, associate professor of medicine at The Ohio State’s Wexner Medical Center said, “The importance of producing a faster diagnosis cannot be overstated, because patients experience tremendous stress during the diagnostic process. Just getting the diagnosis actually makes patients feel better and lowers costs because of reductions in anxiety.”
In this study, researchers used the infrared microspectroscope instrument to identify the biochemical content of specific blood samples. Infrared technology identifies molecules based on how molecular bonds vibrate when struck by light. As the bonds vibrate, the instrument software identifies peaks on a spectrum based on each molecule’s unique vibration patterns.
Since the technology works using dried blood samples, only a few drops of blood is enough to test for fibromyalgia.
Blood samples were obtained from fourteen individuals diagnosed with fibromyalgia, fifteen with rheumatoid arthritis and twelve with osteoarthritis. The two types of arthritis where chosen because the disorders are easier to diagnose than fibromyalgia but share many of the same symptoms.
The researchers identified each blind blood sample correctly every time. “It separated them completely, with no misclassifications. That’s very important. It never mistook a patient with fibromyalgia for a patient with arthritis. Clearly we need more numbers, but this showed the technique is quite effective,” said Buffington.
In addition, researchers analyzed different chemicals that are potential biomarkers for fibromyalgia, but Buffington indicated further research is needed to truly identify which molecules cause the specific patterns.
Buffington is hopeful that, although infrared microspectroscopy is expensive, someday a centralized lab could be used as testing center with dried blood samples sent to it through the US mail.
Although a veterinarian, Buffington is interested in this research because it is considered a medically unexplained or functional disorder. This means the cause of the disease cannot be identified based on the area of the body affected. These types of diseases affect cats and humans alike. Buffington suspects the root cause for such disorders may be in the central nervous system.
The study was published in the Aug. 21, 2013, issue of the journal Analyst.