If your body’s immune system is not functioning correctly, your doctor might say that you have lupus. Find out more about a lupus diagnosis below so you know what to expect or how to help a loved one get through challenging times.
What is Lupus?
Lupus is a long-term autoimmune disease. It occurs when your immune system is hyperactive and attacks your healthy organs and tissue.
There are many types of this lupus disorder. The five kinds of lupus are:
- Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE)
- Discoid lupus erythematosus
- Drug-induced lupus erythematosus
- Neonatal lupus
- Cutaneous lupus erythematosus
The disorder can range from mild to severe, attacking several organs in the most aggressive cases. While there is no cure, there are several ways to self-manage lupus along with taking medications to help improve your quality of life.
How is Lupus Diagnosed?
Lupus can be very difficult to diagnose for many doctors. Known as the “disease of 1,000 faces,” its symptoms vary widely from person to person.
Furthermore, lupus symptoms can change over time. Furthermore, the warning signs tend to be like many other disorders, which makes misdiagnosis a potential issue. For example, the symptoms can be similar to rheumatoid arthritis and systemic sclerosis.
What is a Lupus Rash?
One common early symptom of lupus that can be indicative of the disease is a photosensitive rash, which is a rash that forms in response to sun exposure, especially on the face and upper arms. Often this lupus rash is butterfly-shaped on the cheeks and bridge of the nose. Some other skin problems can also be seen as flaky, red spots or a scaly, purple rash on other parts of the body, including the face, neck, and arms. Some people may even develop mouth sores.
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How long does a diagnosis of lupus take?
Given that different people have varying signs of lupus, diagnosing the autoimmune condition can take a doctor a considerable amount of time. Even if the doctor sees a range of symptoms that make this professional say that the issue is lupus, there is not enough evidence for a firm diagnosis.
The reason is that no single symptom qualifies an individual as having SLE or any other type of lupus. However, the doctor can narrow the diagnosis by using certain tests, such as an ANA (antinuclear antibodies) test.
In this case, the doctor will monitor the patient over time for signs and symptoms, looking to see if they remain present and if there are changes. The physician gathers this information through regular appointments with the patient, as well as laboratory tests.
How does a doctor diagnose the condition?
As indicated earlier, a physician will conduct certain tests to help narrow down the diagnosis. A test for ANAs in the blood, for example, if the results are found to be positive, points strongly to the existence of lupus.
However, it is still possible to have a negative ANA test result and still have lupus. This occurrence, though, is rare.
Other laboratory tests that a doctor is likely to run if they have suspicions of a patient having lupus are:
- Blood tests to assess kidney and liver functioning
- Complete blood count
- Erythrocyte sedimentation rate
- Chest X-ray
- Biopsy of kidney tissue
The complete blood count test looks at red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets, as well as the amount of hemoglobin. This test may indicate anemia, which is a common symptom of lupus. It also can reveal a low number of white blood cells, which is also a possible indicator of lupus.
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Even thought there is no cure as of yet, with available treatment most people with lupus can expect a normal life expectancy. The individual treatment plan will primarily depend on the type of lupus that it is and its severity and symptoms.
There are many medications that are use control symptoms of lupus, from mild anti-inflammatory drugs to some very potent steroids. Usually, a doctor will prescribe the least powerful one, over the shortest time, that will do the job. Medications may have side effects, and, in combination, some drugs can interact to produce unexpected reactions so getting the combination just right is important.
Living With Lupus: What to Expect?
One thing that makes a huge difference in living with lupus is how active the individual is in controlling the disease. We can deal better with the challenge of living with this or any chronic condition by educating ourselves about the condition and by becoming more self aware of our body and what it needs. of how our own body reacts.
Often, a person’s flares follow a clear pattern, with the same combination of symptoms every time. An informed patient can watch for warning signs and alert the doctor early on. While false alarms happen, catching a flare in its early stages can make treatment easier and more effective.
Meditate. Yes, meditate. As most people know by now, meditation is the practice of improving your moment-by-moment awareness.
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Of course strong support of family and friends is always important to anyone’s well being. Membership in lupus organizations can also help support and educate anyone who has been diagnosed with lupus.
Final words on a lupus diagnosis
Because it occurs most often in women of childbearing age, it seems evident that there is a link between lupus and some hormones, but how this works remains uncertain. It also appears that inherited factors may make certain people more likely to develop lupus, but these also are not clear yet.
Until science fully understands how the immune system works, the specific cause of lupus remains unknown.
If several diagnostic criteria are met, then a doctor can reach a lupus diagnosis. However, some symptoms may appear slowly over time, which makes the process of diagnosing a difficult one. See your doctor right away if you think you might have lupus or another disorder.
If lupus sounds familiar, you may have recently heard that Selena Gomez has spoken up about her battle with lupus: 5 Things Selena Gomez’s Battle With Lupus Have Taught Us About the Autoimmune Disease