by Dr. Bill Rawls
There’s no good, conclusive medical test for fibromyalgia. Discover other tests that can help diagnose fibromyalgia and reveal effective treatments.
Question: What’s the best test for fibromyalgia?
What are the best tests for diagnosing fibromyalgia? Really, by definition, there are none. That’s the problem. Fibromyalgia is classified as a disorder, so medical science doesn’t recognize that it has causes or that it has a defined treatment.
But I look at illness very differently. I don’t put illnesses in specific boxes. I think all illnesses have some common causes, and we have different causes, different illnesses, because those things come together slightly differently for different genes.
I see illness almost as a continuum, and fibromyalgia is almost a pre-disease. Most people don’t just suddenly have terrible symptoms. You start with aches and pains, a little brain fog, your joints are hurting, your energy level goes down, and it’s really not enough to get your attention and you just push through it. It’s not until these collections of symptoms come together enough for you to want to bring it to the attention of your doctor that you start to really become concerned.
When the tests — the thyroid and autoimmune testing and all the other things — are done, it’s not quite enough to hit the indicators to say, “Oh, you’ve got this particular diagnosis.” All you end up with is a group of symptoms that puts you in this box of having fibromyalgia.
I think with fibromyalgia, there are definite causes. Part of that is health habits and environmental factors. Microbes are a big part of it. Sooner or later you’re going to get the diagnosis. But my objective as a physician has always been, “Let’s see if we can help people get well before they end up with a really significant diagnosis.”
So, what kinds of tests? Typically, we test for thyroid problems, autoimmune diseases, and the basic blood chemistries. We check a white blood cell count and check for anemia — those basic kinds of things.
I think as we go along through history, we’re going to find tests that are more specific for fibromyalgia. In my research, I’m starting to look at fibromyalgia very differently than most other physicians. I think it’s very closely related to chronic Lyme disease. In fact, many people with fibromyalgia either are carrying the microbe that causes Lyme disease or are later found to have it. That was my case. I identified with fibromyalgia for years, until I found that I had chronic Lyme.
But what is chronic Lyme? It’s not an infection with a microbe. Chronic Lyme is a spectrum of microbes. There are always coinfections, and all of these microbes are very, very similar. They have very similar characteristics, and they have similar kinds of symptoms. I’ve been able to catalog at least a hundred different microbes that can cause some of the same symptoms that we find with fibromyalgia. These things are low-grade — they just kind of work in the back of the system — and it’s not one, it’s usually a spectrum of them.
Two people with fibromyalgia can have a different spectrum of microbes in their microbiomes. These microbes disrupt things slightly differently. Very interestingly, most physicians aren’t checking for any microbes, or they may do a Lyme test but that’s all.
So, for many people that I’ve seen over time who have fibromyalgia, sooner or later they ended up with someone that did the microbe testing looking for Lyme and coinfections, and it turned out they have that microbe associated with Lyme, but they also have other things. They’ve got reactivation of Epstein-Barr virus and other kinds of viruses. They’re carrying mycoplasma, some have bartonella. There is just this whole spectrum of microbes that can be part of it.
I think that microbe spectrum and disruption of the immune system are what causes the whole body to break down. Then you’ve got these low-grade microbes that are in all of the tissues. That’s fibromyalgia. It’s a little bit different for every individual. As we get better at testing for all the microbes in our whole microbiome and get better at testing for these immune disturbances, I think we’re going to be able to define fibromyalgia better.
But really, you don’t have to wait that long to get well when you start addressing the chronic immune dysfunction. I found that herbal therapy is a fantastic way to suppress all of these opportunistic microbes in our microbiome. You can start getting well — you don’t have to wait for all that information to come along, which may be 10 or 20 years in the future.