Is there a test for lupus?

First and foremost, there is no single lupus test that can definitively diagnose lupus disease. Lupus is an extremely complex disease and extremely hard to diagnose because lupus symptoms mimic the symptoms of many other diseases and can come and go at anytime.

Click here for a complete guide on how to identify, cope with, and treat lupus disease.

To properly test for lupus, doctors and physicians generally must gather information from several different sources such as a patient’s medical history (both individual and the history of closely related family members), various laboratory tests (ANA test, lupus blood tests, etc.), and the possible symptoms of lupus (fatigue, lupus rashes, mouth sores, kidney problems, etc.) a person may be currently experiencing.

Systemic lupus erythematosus is generally diagnosed based on 11 criteria developed by the The American College of Rheumatology (ACR). In order to diagnose lupus, 4 of the 11 criteria must be met. 7 of the 11 criteria relate to lupus symptoms in women and men and 4 relate to the results of various laboratory lupus tests.

The 11 criteria associated with lupus testing as outlined by the ACR are:

  • The presence of a malar butterfly rash across the cheeks and bridge of the nose
  • The presence of discoid rashes which are often raised and scaly and can occur on many different areas of the body
  • Photosensitivity and the appearance of sun-related rashes
  • The presence of mouth sores and ulcers
  • The presence of swelling and pain in two or more joints
  • The presence of swelling in the linings of the heart and lungs
  • The presence of neurological disorders (seizures, psychosis, etc.)
  • The presence of low blood counts either as a whole or as low numbers of red blood cells, white blood cells, or platelets
  • Showing a positive antinuclear antibody test which is often a strong indicator for autoimmune diseases
  • Having additional positive blood tests such as a positive double-stranded anti-DNA test, positive anti-Sm test, positive anti-phospholipid antibody test, or false-positive syphilis test

The Antinuclear Antibodies (ANA) Lupus Test

One of the most powerful indicators of lupus is the antinuclear antibodies (ANA) test and it is often one of the first tests performed when testing for lupus. Approximately 95% of people with systemic lupus show a positive ANA. However, a positive ANA does not necessarily mean a person has lupus because a positive ANA can also be found with other diseases such as:

  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Autoimmune thyroid and/or liver disease
  • Scleroderma
  • Malaria
  • Subacute bacterial endocarditis (SBE)

Likewise, a negative ANA doesn’t prove a person DOESN’T have lupus. Although rare, other lupus symptoms may still be present even with a negative ANA.

The antinuclear antibody test serves only as an indicator and must be taken into consideration with the other 10 lupus criteria outlined by the ACR. Approximately 20% of the general population has a positive ANA, but shows no signs and symptoms of any illness. Also, the ANA can sometimes change from positive to negative in the same person, so it can not be used as a single, definitive test for lupus disease.

There are many other tests for lupus that can be combined with the ANA test to provide a more accurate diagnosis of lupus. Additional lupus diagnostic tests include:

  • Routine blood tests such as a complete blood count (CBC) which measures a patient’s red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets, and serum. Lupus blood work can be a strong indicator as people with lupus disease often have a low CBC.
  • Spot urine tests which look for cell casts and proteins in the blood (proteinuria) which can indicate the kidneys are not properly filtering wastes from the bloodstream. Poor kidney function is a common lupus symptom in women and men.
  • Additional antibody tests such as antibodies to double stranded DNA (anti-dsDNA), antibodies to histone, antibodies to phospholipids (aPLs) such as lupus anticoagulant, antibodies to Ro/SS-A and La/SS-B, antibodies to Sm proteins, and antibodies to ribonucleoproteins.
  • Protein complement tests such as CH50, C3, and C4. Complement levels are often low in lupus patients because the proteins get used up by the inflammation caused by lupus disease.
  • Erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR or “sed” rate) which tests for inflammation by looking at the presence of a protein that makes red blood cells clump together. Most lupus patients will show a high ESR.
  • Blood clotting tests which measure the rate at which your blood clots.

Do I Have Lupus?

If you’re wondering if you could have lupus, here is a self-help lupus test to help you identify the many different signs and symptoms of lupus. If you’ve experienced in the past or are currently experiencing several of the signs of lupus listed below, then it’s important to talk to your doctor about the possibility of having lupus disease.

  • Are you prone to seizures, convulsions, confusion, or high fevers over 100 degrees Fahrenheit?
  • Do you have any sores in your mouth, nose, or on your body that don’t heal?
  • Do you have trouble breathing or notice any chest or abdominal pain while breathing?
  • Do you have swelling in your legs and ankles or ever been diagnosed with proteinuria?
  • Do you have painful or swollen joints? Have you experienced them for several months?
  • Do you suffer from chronic fatigue, even when you seem to get plenty of sleep at night?
  • Do you have low blood counts?
  • Have you ever had a heart attack, stroke, or been known to have blood clotting problems?
  • Does your skin break out in a rash when exposed to sunlight?
  • Do you ever develop a rash or redness across your cheeks and nose?
  • Have you experienced any hair loss?
  • Have you noticed your fingers or toes becoming red, blue, numb, or painful?
  • Have you ever had a miscarriage?

If you’ve been diagnosed with lupus, the next step is to find a lupus treatment that allows you to cope and live with the disease by controlling lupus symptoms and eliminating lupus causes. The right lupus treatment can make your own lupus prognosis a very positive and optimistic one that will allow you to live a relatively normal, healthy life.

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