Before receiving any test, it is important to understand that no one test alone can determine a lupus diagnosis. A positive test result does not necessarily mean that you have lupus, nor does a negative test result mean that you do not have lupus. Individual test results can also vary from one visit to another, which can be very confusing. A doctor will take into consideration a combination of factors as well as the test results when diagnosing lupus, and because of this, we encourage you inquire about the ANA and DNA testing, which doctors are often reluctant to give. These two tests together can create a clearer picture of whether the diagnosis could be lupus. Again, we must remind you that just because you test negative today, it does not mean that you won’t test positive tomorrow. If you are not satisfied with the results or are uncomfortable with your physician for any reason, please seek a second opinion. We always advise you to be your best advocate!
Because lupus is so complicated and can affect people so differently, it is important to see a doctor who specialized in the treatment of lupus, such as a Rheumatologist, -as well as any other specialists who are familiar with the complications you may have. Try our referral network to help you find one in your area. Molly's Fund Resource Network
If you have not yet been to a physician, here are some important tips to do in preparing for your first appointment:
- Write down a complete list of symptoms, being as specific as possible.
- Write down any significant life changes or sources of stress.
- Write a list of medications you are taking, and have taken in the past.
- List any diseases or conditions you are suffering from, or have suffered from in the past.
Because lupus can mimic several other illnesses, a diagnosis will usually take into consideration several factors:
If the physician has suspicions that you could be suffering from lupus, or another auto-immune disease, he or she will most likely order several tests. Some of these tests may include the following list:
- The patient’s entire medical history
- Signs and symptoms (It is very important to keep detailed records of your symptoms)
- Physical examination findings
- An analysis of the results from routine laboratory tests (see below listing)
- Analysis of specialized tests related to immune status (see below listing)
Some of the laboratory tests may include*:
Tests for a Lupus Diagnosis
- Complete Blood Count (CBC): This test will measure the number of red and white blood cells, platelets as well as the amount of hemoglobin (a protein in red blood cells.) Results from this test can indicate anemia, or a low white blood cell or platelet counts which both often occur in conjunction with lupus.
- Chemistry Panel: This is a test to assess kidney function and liver function. Information on blood sugar, electrolytes, and cholesterol and triglyceride levels will also be assessed. Abnormalities could indicate the development of complications from lupus.
- Serum Protein Electrophoresis Test: This is a blood test used to reveal increased gammaglobulin and decreased albumin.
- C-Reactive Protein (CRP): This protein can be a marker of inflammation.
- Complement: Complement proteins are involved in inflammation. These levels are usually low in patients with active disease, especially kidney disease. A low complement is not, in itself, a diagnostic of lupus but must be taken in the context of other clinical findings.
- Erythrocyte Sedimentation Rate: This is a blood test that is used to determine the rate at which red blood cells settle to the bottom of a tube in one hour’s time. If the rate is faster than normal, it may be an indication of a systemic disease, like lupus. It is important to note that this sedimentation rate, or rate of settling, does not specifically indicate lupus, but can be elevated if other inflammatory conditions are present like cancer or an infection.
- Kidney and Liver Assessment: Because lupus can affect these organs, blood tests will be done to see how well they are functioning.
- Urinalysis: An increased protein level or red blood cells in the urine can occur in lupus if it has affected your kidneys, therefore an examination of a sample of your urine will be performed. A measurement will be taken to determine how effective the kidneys are at filtering the blood to eliminate waste.
- Antinuclear Antibody Test (ANA): A positive ANA test for the presence of these antibodies, which are produced by your immune system, indicates a stimulated immune system. While most people with lupus have a positive ANA test, most people with a positive ANA test do not have lupus. If you have a positive ANA test, more specific antibody testing will most likely be advised.
- Anitphospholipid Antibodies (APLs): Phospholipids are antibodies that are present in approximately one out of every two people with lupus. A positive test can help confirm diagnosis as well as help identify women with lupus who have certain risks (like blood clots and miscarriage) that would require preventative treatment and monitoring. Note that the presence of phospholipids also occurs in people without lupus and therefore, there presence alone is not enough for a lupus diagnosis.
- Anti-dsDNA test:This is the protein directed against the double-stranded DNA, the material making up the genetic code. This test is very specific for lupus, and can be used to determine a lupus diagnosis. One in every two people with lupus has a positive anti-dsDNA test. The presence of this anti-dsDNA can indicate a higher risk of lupus nephritis, kidney inflammation that can occur with lupus. This test can confirm the need to closely monitor the kidneys. Only half the people with lupus have a positive test, so a positive or negative test does not mean you have lupus.
- *Information taken from the Mayo Clinic, WebMD, Lupus Research Institute
If your physician has suspicions that your heart or lungs have been affected by lupus, he or she may advise for specific imaging tests in diagnosing lupus:
- Chest X-Ray: Abnormal shadows in a chest x-ray may be an indication of fluid or inflammation in your lungs.
- Echocardiogram: Sound waves used in this test produce images of your beating heart in real time. It can suggest problems with valves and other parts of your heart.
An Echocardiogram Can be Used in the Diagnosis of Lupus Complications
It is very common for lupus to affect the kidneys negatively in many ways. Treatments will vary based on the type of damage that occurs. In some cases, testing a small sample of the kidney tissue will help determine the best treatment and course of action to be taken. A needle or small incision is usually used to obtain this sample.
Once a lupus diagnosis has been confirmed by your physician, you will have many questions. Here is a quick list of questions to help you get started in getting the necessary information in order to have a better understanding of your specific symptoms and move forward towards the most successful course of treatment and/or management of the disease:
- How can I help control my symptoms?
- How will lupus affect my body?
- Had the disease affected or damaged my kidneys or other vital organs?
- Would it be safe for me to become pregnant?
- What are my treatment options, medications? What are the side effects?
- Are there any doctors you can recommend who specializes in treating lupus?
- How often should I have checkups?
- Are there any alternative treatments for lupus?
You Are Not Alone
It can be very scary to receive a lupus diagnosis, have your life disrupted and cause you to become uncertain about the future. The good news is that strides are continually being made in the discovery of better diagnostic tools and more effective medications. With the combination of correct treatment, medication, and living a healthy lifestyle, many people with lupus can look forward to a leading a long and productive life. We encourage you to reach out to friends, family, and join support groups to share your feelings and fears. We would like to remind you to be your best advocate, take great notes, and bring a support person with you to each visit to help remind you of the doctor’s advice and information. To help you keep track of your health, please check out Molly’s Med Minder.
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