Diagnosing lupus can be challenging. There’s no single test that can give doctors a “yes” or “no” answer. Sometimes it can take months—or even years—to gather all the right information.
Making a lupus diagnosis is kind of like putting together a puzzle. Your doctor will look at several different puzzle pieces: your symptoms, medical history, family history, and lab tests. If enough of the pieces fit together, you may be diagnosed with lupus.
What questions will my doctor ask?
If your doctor thinks you might have lupus, they’ll ask you questions about your symptoms, like:
- What symptoms are you having?
- How often do you have these symptoms?
- When did your symptoms start?
- Does anything make your symptoms better or worse?
- Are your symptoms constant or do they come and go?
- Do your symptoms get worse at a certain time of day?
- Do your symptoms get in the way of your daily routine?
Your doctor may also ask if anyone in your family has had lupus or another autoimmune disease (a disease where the immune system attacks healthy tissue). That’s because people who have a family member with an autoimmune disease may be more likely to develop lupus.
Get ready for your appointment
Before your doctor’s appointment, take a few minutes to think through the questions above. Try writing down your answers and taking them with you to the doctor’s office.
You can also use these resources to get ready for your appointment:
- Learn more about the signs and symptoms of lupus
- Take a few minutes to fill in this symptom checklist
- Follow these 6 tips to make the most of your appointment
What types of tests can help diagnose lupus?
Your doctor might give you different lab tests to figure out if you have lupus. While no single test can diagnose lupus, tests help doctors check for changes in your body — like inflammation — that could be caused by lupus.
Inflammation usually happens when your immune system is fighting an infection or an injury. When lupus makes your immune system attack healthy tissue, it can cause inflammation in lots of different body parts. Symptoms can include swelling and pain.
Blood tests can help doctors see things like how your immune system is working, or if there are signs of inflammation in your body. Your doctor may ask you to get these blood tests:
- A complete blood count (CBC) to measure the numbers of red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets (cells that help blood clot) in your blood
- Antibody tests to find out if your immune system is attacking healthy tissue
- Blood clotting time tests to see if you have clotting problems
- Complement tests to check for signs of inflammation
Urine (pee) tests can help doctors see if there are problems with your kidneys. Your doctor may test your urine once or test it many times to check for changes.
Doctors may remove a small piece of tissue (what your organs are made of) from different parts of your body, like your skin. Then they can check that tissue to see if there are any signs of inflammation and damage.
What happens if I get diagnosed with lupus?
If you get diagnosed with lupus, you can work with your doctor to make a treatment plan. There’s no cure for lupus, but there are ways to stay on top of your health and manage your symptoms.
For more information about diagnosing lupus, visit the National Resource Center on Lupus.
Victoria Gibbs experienced strange symptoms for months before she finally got a diagnosis. She learned that being diagnosed with lupus isn’t the end of the world — it’s a new beginningRead Her Story