By Dr. Maria Simbra

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Barbara Hartong’s problems began after a fall.

“I missed three stairs here in my home,” she said.

Afterwards, she had puzzling symptoms.

“The pain was excruciating in my muscles. I just wanted to go to bed. Just that feeling, head to toe,” Hartong said.

She thought she was just overdoing it, but the fatigue and pain persisted.

“They ran some tests, and determined that I didn’t have lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, or MS. He said, ‘But I think you have fibromyalgia.’ And I never even heard of the word,” she said.

“Fibromyalgia is a pain-amplification syndrome,” Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center rheumatologist Dr. Kevin Hacksaw said. “Their nervous system enhances impulses that go to brain centers that register pain, so they are indeed in pain despite seemingly minor pressure to various places on their body.”

In fact, tenderness at specific trigger points — the neck, upper and lower back, shoulders, chest, elbows and hips — is a key exam finding with fibromylagia.

No one knows why it happens. And there is no specific test. Many people spend years going to doctor after doctor, getting test after test to eliminate other potential causes for their symptoms, such as autoimmune disorders affecting the nerves and joints.

So researchers have been working on finding a marker in the blood to identify people with fibromyalgia, with the hopes of shortening the time to diagnosis or pinpointing a target for treatment.

So far, the blood samples of 100 people with clear-cut symptoms of either rheumatoid arthritis, lupus or fibromyalgia have been studied.

Filtered blood from people with fibromyalgia is put through an apparatus. The sample creates a light wavelength pattern, and the idea is to look for what is unique.

By statistically analyzing the patterns, the researchers have been able to identify common elements for each disease.

The test is far off yet from being widely available. The researchers need 100 more patients to validate the findings and show accuracy, the machine needs to be miniaturized for office use, and they need more funding.

But the objective is to someday be able to put the test to work at a doctor’s visit.

“We had one email that was indicating that it took about three years to get a diagnosis. Imagine if you can wait only one day, or a few hours, and get the diagnosis,” said Luis Rodriguez-Saona, PhD, of Ohio State University’s Food Science and Technology.

“The difference between our test and prior studies is that many of the older studies looked at tests such as MRIs, very expensive; spinal taps, quite invasive. We’re talking about a test where we’re using one-twentieth of a teaspoon of a patient’s blood sample,” says Dr. Hacksaw.

A sample of Barb’s blood was included in the study.

With medicine and exercise, she’s doing better now.

“There are people that go years, they go from doctor to doctor to doctor, explaining their symptoms, and for I think a lot of people, they’ve been told it’s all in their head,” Hartong said. “A test would be wonderful.”

Anyone with questions about the test can send an email to

Dr. Maria Simbra