There is a disease whose very existence is questioned today by many in the medical field. That condition is fibromyalgia—a diagnosis that is one of “exclusion.” That is, up until recently, there was no objective test or marker for the condition. Now, a California doctor claims that has changed.
Fibromyalgia as a disease and diagnosis has been around for decades. But many doctors, even today, don’t believe it exists. Characterized by any combination of muscle and joint aches, sleep disturbance, headaches, “brain fog,” anxiety, depression, migraines and irritable bowels, this condition was often dismissed as a bogus diagnosis. There was never, until today, any lab test or other medical study that could confirm its presence. For those who do believe it is real, it seems to afflict one out of 12 women and one out of 20 men. Children can even be affected.
Long the domain of rheumatologists, psychiatrists and internists, the condition confounds patients and caregivers alike. It has been estimated that the average time until correct diagnosis is three to five years, and the average patient will have spent between $4,800 and $9,300 healthcare dollars in getting the right diagnosis. Many patients fear being labelled hypochondriacs and malingerers, and doctors who don’t know much about the condition and how to treat it have been frustrated when its signs and symptoms present themselves.
All that may be changing. Dr. Bruce Gillis, a California doctor and researcher, in conjunction with the University of Illinois/Chicago and the Harvard School of Public Health, has been examining the issue. He and his research team claim to have designed a test specific for fibromyalgia, the fm/a test, which is said to measure certain chemicals from white blood cells called mononuclear cells. The chemicals, called cytokines and chemokines, are supposed to react a certain way in the normal state of health. The test sees if these chemicals are altered in their function in a specific way indicative of fibromyalgia.
Not all insurance companies will cover the cost of the test. Also, there have been critics who say that since Dr. Gillis has a financial stake in the company (he is CEO EpicGenetics, the company selling the test), the test should be regarded with caution. However, since there appears to have been no major breakthroughs in diagnosing the disease, I feel investigation into these claims is certainly warranted. You can learn more about the test at thefmtest.com.
Concurrent with the test has been the discovery that an old TB medication, BCG, has shown promise in treating patients with fibromyalgia. I would encourage anyone who is suspected of having the condition do the necessary research and ask your doctor if he/she is aware of this information (including an upcoming clinical trial on BCG). For a disease that has been so mysterious and elusive these many years, perhaps there is a game-changing diagnostic test and treatment on the horizon. But, as I said, read, learn and talk. This may be the most promising news about fibromyalgia to come along in years.
For more with Dr. Sherer, click here for his podcast and video interviews, or purchase his memoir, The House of Black and White: My Life with and Search for Louise Johnson Morris.