Dr. Kevin Hackshaw examines fibromyalgia patient, Barb Hartong, at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. A new laboratory test may provide biological characteristics to help guide personalized treatment plans to relieve fibromyalgia pain. Credit: Courtesy of the Wexner Medical Center

A painful disease that is typically diagnosed by process of elimination might soon have a definitive test because of new research at Ohio State.

Fibromyalgia, a chronic disease usually categorized by pain and fatigue, typically remains unidentified or misidentified in patients because a diagnosis relies almost completely on the patients’ description of their problems, Dr. Kevin Hackshaw, an associate professor of rheumatology and immunology at Ohio State, said.

A diagnosis for fibromyalgia can sometimes take years, and even then the diagnosis does not come with 100 percent accuracy, Hackshaw said. He and his colleagues have developed a test that he hopes will start being used for patients within the next five years.

In the United States, Hackshaw said 2.5 percent of people suffer from this disease but have yet to be given a definitive diagnosis.

“It gives [fibromyalgia patients] hope,” he said.

Luis Rodriguez-Saona, a professor in food science and technology at Ohio State, has been working on this research for 10 years. He said they developed a protocol that eliminated the markers of similar diseases, which led to the ability to pinpoint specific chemicals in patients’ blood that are unique markers for fibromyalgia.

Hackshaw said in the past there has been some skepticism regarding whether fibromyalgia is a legitimate disease because there are no outward symptoms beyond what a patient describes. He said having a definitive test for this disease and legitimizing it would allow patients to feel confident about their diagnosis.

Fibromyalgia does not have a known cure, but Hackshaw said a definitive diagnosis is imperative for proper treatment to be prescribed. Because the disease is often categorized by chronic pain, many undiagnosed patients are prescribed opioids, which makes the disease worse.

Hackshaw said he hopes that once these patients are isolated and clinics can distinguish between fibromyalgia and other diseases categorized by chronic pain, fewer patients will be given inappropriate treatment.

The test will not only promote proper treatment for people with this disease, but it will also allow for more targeted treatment, Rodriguez-Saona said.

“[We] can develop more personalized approaches, but it’s important that [we] start by getting a diagnosis,” Rodriguez-Saona said.

Since the article detailing their findings was published in The Journal of Biological Chemistry in December, Rodriguez-Saona said they have received numerous hopeful emails from patients.

“Many of [the patients] were very excited about the opportunity to get a diagnosis,” he said.

Rodriguez-Saona said the research team is pleased with the results they are finding. The next step is to broaden their research by starting trials with more patients, while also improving the test’s ability to further differentiate between fibromyalgia markers and the markers of other diseases.

“In five years we could get to a point where we have a rapid blood test that can definitively diagnose fibromyalgia,” Hackshaw said.

With the continued support of their donors, Hackshaw said they will continue their research with hopes of finding results consistent with the success they have had thus far.