Of all the diseases that affect everyday Americans, lupus is one of the most challenging and most difficult to diagnose. It’s estimated that about 1.5 million Americans are effected by lupus.
Quite simply, lupus is a disease that effects a body’s immune system, causing it to attack tissues in other parts of the body, which can lead to serious illness.
A person afflicted with lupus may experience:
- Unexplained high fevers
- Hair loss
- Extreme and prolonged fatigue
- Swelling in the joints
- Chest pains
- Sensitivity to light
Despite all the advances in medicine in the 21st century, doctors still aren’t quite sure what causes lupus. Some speculate that hormones, genetics and even a person’s environment may be possible culprits. Because there isn’t a solitary cause and symptoms are different for every person, testing can be a challenge.
What makes it so challenging is that there isn’t a single blood test that can diagnose it. Fortunately, there are certain clinical criteria that can confirm a lupus diagnosis and blood work and other kinds of medical testing can both monitor the disease while also showing the effects of different treatments.
Some of the most common tests for lupus are blood tests and there are several used, including:
- Antinuclear Antibody (ANA): ANA is an antibody directed against the nuclei of cells. It shows up in nearly everyone that actively has lupus and this test is typically used as a screening tool. By look at antibody patterns, doctors can determine which disease a person has, which in turn helps them determine the best treatment for a patient. While the test can be an effective screening tool, a positive result for a patient might not always indicate that they have lupus. It is therefore often used in conjunction with other kinds of testing.
- Anti-SM: The Anti-Sm antibody is directed against the SM protein found in a cell’s nucleus. SM protein is found in approximately 30% of people who have lupus, so a positive test can potentially be another sign of lupus. One drawback is that since only about 30% of people with lupus have a positive anti-SM test, relying just on that could miss a large majority of folks.
- Antiphospholipid Antibodies (APLs): APLs are another antibody, which is directed against phospholipids. They can be found in about 60% of people with lupus and they can be especially effective in diagnosing lupus in women, which in turn could leads to risks like blood clots and miscarriages. But APLs may occurt in folks without lupus, so this test can’t solely determine whether a person has it.
- Anti-dsDNA: This is a protein directed against double-stranded DNA, the stuff that is unique to every person and makes up their genetic code. DNA testing services are able to determine a lot about a person’s medical makeup and even things like a buccal DNA collection kit help DNA stay intact and allow it to be more easily collected. That said, a positive anti-dsDNA test doesn’t for sure indicate lupus, but it can alert doctors to monitor other parts of the body concerned with anti-dsDNA like the kidneys.
- Anti-La (SSB) and Anti-Ro (SSA): These two antibodies are found together and are specific against RNA proteins. Both antibodies are associated with neonatal (newborn) lupus and the their presence in pregnant women can signal to doctors the need to monitor the baby. Though they can be found in other autoimmune disorders, they can’t solely indicate whether or not a person has lupus.
No single blood test will determine whether or not a person is afflicted by lupus, but with testing such as anti-SM testing, doctors can make a clearer determination of whether or not a person has lupus and what can be done treatment-wise to help them. Job growth outlook in the biomedical field is estimated at 23%, so there’s no doubt doctors will keep working to help people with lupus.