Lupus can be a truly crippling disease and can have a horrible impact on the daily lives of those who experience it. It is an autoimmune disease that is characterized by inflammation in several parts of the body due to the immune system attacking healthy tissue. Not only do the symptoms impact everyday life and cause extreme discomfort and pain, but in severe cases they can even cause damage to internal organs. This is why an early diagnosis for lupus can be essential. Diagnosis for lupus can be a confusing, lengthy and frustrating process. In an attempt to clarify this process, this article outlines some important information about the diagnosis of lupus.
Before the appointment:
Ensure you have a good understanding of what you have been experiencing lately so that you can give the doctor this information. It may help to even write down a list of your symptoms, how long ago they started, anything you’ve noticed that makes them worse and any medications or supplements you are regularly taking. It can be difficult to not be swayed by what you have read online or heard from others and feel as though you know what is going on health-wise for you. However, you need to be careful with this, because without the correct information about your symptoms, the doctor cannot make an accurate diagnosis. It can also be helpful to write down any questions you might have for the doctor so that you are able to remember them during the appointment.
During the appointment:
The doctor will ask you about your symptoms, past health history, family health history and any medications or supplements you are taking. Given lupus involves inflammation, the doctor will look for signs of inflammation such as rashes, joint pain and swelling. It is important that even if you feel you “know” it is lupus, you provide the doctor with the information requested. This is because lupus is inherently difficult to diagnose because the symptoms match a great number of other medical conditions and the symptoms tend to change over time and be unpredictable. Bear with the doctor during this process because they need to “rule out” all the other medical conditions it could be prior to being able to diagnose lupus.
During the appointment, the doctor may also conduct some diagnostic tests. The most commonly used of these is the antinuclear antibody test (ANA). This test looks for the presence of antinuclear antibodies but a positive result on this test is not exclusive to lupus. There are also a number of other tests that look for any changes or problems in your body. These include blood and urine tests that look at:
- Blood count – this is to look for anemia, low white blood cell or platelet counts which can all occur in lupus
- Kidney and liver function – as lupus can impact these organs
- Urine – to look for high levels of protein or red blood cells in the urine due to kidney problems from lupus
- Blood – the erythrocyte sedimentation rate blood test looks at how quickly red blood cells settle in a tube. A fast rate may occur when there is a disease present. Again, this is not unique to lupus, but can be present in lupus.
- X-rays – if the doctor suspects that your lungs and heart are being impacted, they may x-ray them to look for fluid or issues with your heart beat.
Unfortunately, no test can give a definite diagnosis of lupus. However, each of these tests are able to add more information to the diagnostic picture allowing the doctor to eventually come to a diagnosis. If they are able to find enough diagnostic evidence your doctor will be able to provide a diagnosis of lupus. However, if the diagnostic picture is not clear, your doctor will likely refer you on to a rheumatologist.
For further information about lupus and the different types of lupus, please see the links below.