Understanding How to Diagnose Lupus.
Diagnosing lupus is challenging because it usually takes time (weeks to months) with tests and observation for lupus signs before confirming a diagnosis. Lupus symptoms may imitate many other diseases, so your doctor must carefully sort through those possibilities as he or she tries to diagnose your symptoms. This should be confirmed by a rheumatologist who specializes in the management and treatment of lupus.
Lupus's primary symptoms—such as joint pain, weight loss, fatigue, and headaches—match many other health conditions. However, if you have rashes, your skin is perhaps overly sensitive to the sun, or you have ulcers in your mouth, your doctor may suspect lupus.
To start the diagnosis process, you doctor will begin with a complete medical exam that will include:
- a complete review of your medical history with an emphasis on your current medications
- questions about your family's medical history
- examining your skin for rashes, as well as your heart, lungs, joints, abdomen, nerves, and muscles
- blood tests to search for the presence of autoantibodies and other lupus markers
- urine tests to look for abnormal blood or protein level
- chest radiograph (x-ray) to look for heart or lung abnormalities
However, diagnosing lupus usually takes weeks or months as your doctor observes you. Because lupus can affect so many body systems, your doctor may need additional tests on specific organs or tissues. He or she is looking for the changes that point to lupus—or rule it out.
Blood Tests for Lupus Diagnosis
You will go through a number of blood tests while your doctor figures out if you have lupus. He or she is looking for the presence of autoantibodies—the immune system proteins that are associated with immune system dysfunction.
It is tricky because there are many types of antibodies. Furthermore, antibodies are always present in our system because they are always fighting bacteria, viruses, and other germs. If your doctor sees lupus-related antibodies consistently present in your blood, he or she may diagnose you with lupus.
Your physician will also watch your blood test results for anemia and other blood disorders. Blood and urine tests will be monitored for signs of kidney changes that are common in patients with lupus.
Visiting a Rheumatologist: A Lupus Doctor
You will probably start the lupus exploration and diagnosis process with your primary care doctor or provider. However, you will benefit from working with a rheumatologist, a doctor who specializes in treating lupus and other disorders of the immune system.