People with fibromyalgia (FM) have different amounts of certain types of gut bacteria than those without the disease, according to a new study published in the journal PAIN. This is the first time the differences in the intestinal microbiome are associated with the disease, and the researchers say their work can lead to better diagnostic tools and treatment options.
Fibromyalgia is one of the most common forms of chronic widespread pain that affects much as 4 percent of the population. It is characterized by pain, physical exhaustion, sleep problems and cognitive symptoms that affect a person's overall quality of life. The source and cause of the disease is largely unknown and it is difficult to diagnose, in some cases it takes up to five years to do so.
Researchers tested 77 women with FM and 79 control participants in different ways, including extraction of DNA from stool samples.
"We found that fibromyalgia and the symptoms of fibromyalgia ̵
Generally, with and without FM they had the same total population and diversity of bacteria in the intestinal microbiome, but their levels were different. In total, 19 different bacterial species – including several that have been associated with bowel diseases, inflammatory arthritis and inflammatory reactions – have been found in smaller or larger amounts in the gastrointestinal tracts of the study participants with FM.
It is not clear whether the changes in a person's intestinal bacteria are markers of the disease or cause it, but understand the smear of the intestinal microbiome is an important step in understanding how the disease works.
"We used a number of techniques, including artificial intelligence, to confirm that the changes we saw in microbiomas of fibromyalgia patients were not caused by factors such as diet, medicine, physical activity, age, and so on, which are known to affect the microbiome, "Minerbi says.
Machine Learning was then used to analyze the data and accurately diagnose fibromyalgia 87 percent of the time. From now on there is no test for FM, and the diagnosis is largely based on self-reported symptoms.
The researchers report that their next step would be to determine whether changes in the intestinal microbiome affect chronic pain.