Unlike other chronic illnesses, trying to reach a diagnosis of lupus isn’t always easy. However, today’s physicians have more precise techniques and tests to detect signs of disease. You also play a critical role in discussing and managing your health: listen to your body, ask questions, and stay involved!
How Is Lupus Diagnosed?
Because many symptoms of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) mimic those of other illnesses, lupus can be a difficult disease to diagnose. The diagnosis of lupus is based on a combination of physical symptoms and laboratory results and for most people is not a one-time diagnosis. More often than not it is a diagnosis that evolves over time, leading towards more certainty that a person does or does not meet the criteria for a diagnosis of lupus. So what is your doctor looking for to help determine if you may have lupus?
Common Symptoms of Lupus
It is important to know the symptoms of lupus and to know if you are at risk for this disease. This section will cover the most common symptoms of lupus and the criteria established by the American College of Rheumatology to help establish a diagnosis of lupus.
Check out our new interactive "Could you have lupus?" symptom checklist!
This interactive tool was designed to help you better understand the many ways that lupus can affect your body. Each highlighted section features a text box which provides a brief description of how lupus can damage a particular organ or system, from the brain to the blood vessels. You will also be able to go further into the Website for more detailed information. Included is a set of health questions for you to answer that will help your doctor know if you may be at risk for lupus.
Laboratory Tests for Lupus
Lupus is characterized by abnormalities in many laboratory test results. These abnormalities are different for every patient and they vary significantly during the course of a patient’s disease. The serial evaluation of an individual’s tests along with the physician’s observations and the patient’s history determine the diagnosis of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), its course, and the treatment regimen. All laboratory values must be interpreted in light of the patient’s present status, other correlating laboratory test results, and coexisting illnesses. This section briefly describes the major tests used to diagnose and evaluate SLE and provides information on their rationale and clinical usefulness.
What Do These Test Results Mean?
Understanding these tests and what the test results mean can be difficult. In many cases, it can take months or even years for doctors to put together all of the information that is required to make a firm diagnosis of lupus. It is important to have thorough and ongoing communication with your doctors so that the proper diagnosis, whether of lupus or some other condition, can be made as early and accurately as possible.
How to Prepare for a Doctor’s Appointment
In today's managed care environment, the time you spend face to face with your physician is limited. To get the most from your health care providers (HCPs) you'll need to meet them halfway, and preparation is the key. If you come prepared with the details and history of your problem, anticipate questions, know your medications, and bring medical records you increase the likelihood of an accurate diagnosis. And if you are anxious about doctor appointments, good preparation will go a long way to alleviate that anxiety. The following tips can help you make the most of your appointment.
Prognosis and Hopeful Future
We now know more about lupus than ever before. Dedicated researchers are on the brink of significant breakthroughs in the underlying science of the immune system, while public awareness and understanding continue to grow. Improvements in diagnosis, a greater understanding of how medications can work together to control symptoms, and increased knowledge of the effects of the disease have allowed better management of lupus over time. Today people with lupus are leading healthier lives and living longer than at any time in history.
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Ask the Experts
Check out the LFA's "Ask the Expert" archives and learn more about lupus on a variety of topics including skin issues, pregnancy, pediatric lupus, kidney disease, women's and men’s issues, medications, and more. Our panel of nationally-renowned lupus medical experts provides insight, support and answers for the puzzling and often times frustrating issues of lupus. We invite you to submit your own questions through our website.
Learn from the Experts
Lupus: Learn from the Experts is an education series from the Lupus Foundation of America, Inc. The program consists of free educational telephone conference calls on a variety of topics designed to provide you with important information about living with lupus. Don’t miss the opportunity to learn from some of the world’s leading lupus experts from the comfort and privacy of your home.
LFA Approved Publications
The Lupus Foundation of America Patient Education Committee has reviewed and approved a number publications and other materials for use in educating individuals and families about lupus and its health effects.