Discovery of fibromyalgia biomarker offers hope of earlier diagnosis for sufferers

Fibromyalgia literally means ‘fibrous muscle tissue pain’, which is a pretty accurate description of the condition.

Also referred to as ‘Fibromyalgia Syndrome’, or by the abbreviations ‘FM’ or ‘FMS’, sufferers experience the following symptoms…



• pervasive chronic pain and tenderness (often throughout the body)
• muscle stiffness
• fatigue
• cognitive issues (eg short term memory issues, impaired concentration)
• neurological issues (eg muscle cramps, tingling, numbness, headaches)
• sleep issues


Although these are the commonest symptoms, other symptoms may also be present. The condition tends to come and go and flare ups can be triggered by a number of factors, such as stress, illness and injury and even seemingly inconsequential things such as changes in the weather, over exertion and hormonal changes.

The condition is most prevalent in women (80-90%) and generally develops around the age of 45. It is estimated to affect 2-8% of the general population and in the US 4-5 million people are thought to be affected. Lady Gaga is a prominent sufferer and advocate of better recognition and diagnosis of the condition.

The causes of fibromyalgia are not clearly understood, but there is some evidence that it is connected with prior physical trauma (such as whiplash or spinal injury), a prior infection or exposure to certain chemicals. Stress may also be a possible cause and it may also be an inherited condition.

Unfortunately there is no cure, but it can be managed with a range of approaches, including regular physical activity, physiotherapy and massage, maintaining a balanced diet and getting enough sleep. Pain resulting from FMS can also be managed using magnetic therapy (read a case study here).

The term “wind up” is used by some physicians to describe mechanisms of pain from fibromyalgia. Closely related to central sensitization, wind up causes normally innocuous inputs to the central nervous system to be amplified so as to cause pain. One mechanism for how static magnetic fields might “calm” central sensitization could be relevant for fibromyalgia sufferers.

The difficulty for medical professionals is the similarity of many of the symptoms of fibromyalgia to those of other conditions, such as arthritis or inflammation of the joints, and this can result in a delayed diagnosis (often up to five years). In fact it’s believed many cases of the condition remains undiagnosed*.

Recent research reported in the Journal of Biological Chemistry may be about to change this, with hope that a blood test for the condition could be available in the next five years. This optimism is based on the discovery of a ‘metabolic fingerprint’ for the condition, which is identifiable in the blood of people with fibromyalgia.

This fingerprint was found to be different and distinct from biomarkers in the blood of sufferers of similar conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis and lupus. Lead author, rheumatologist Kevin Hackshaw at Ohio State University, also saw a benefit in identifying fibromyalgia as a cause of chronic pain as a way of getting sufferers off opioid pain killers –

“When you look at chronic pain clinics, about 40 percent of patients on opioids meet the diagnostic criteria for fibromyalgia,” he said, “Fibromyalgia often gets worse, and certainly doesn’t get better, with opioids.”

*some estimates put this at 75% of all cases

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