Proper diagnosis is only one step in the ladder of recovery from a certain condition. In a manner, it can give you ideas on the actions you can take to move forward. You may put it in this way, for instance. If you haven’t known that you have a particular illness, you will most likely remain clueless about it. In fact, you might only give it attention when they finally worsen. Hence, humans are like that by nature. They tend to disregard simple signs as long as they don’t bother them that much. In the case of lupus, diagnosing it is not an easy task to do. You will learn more about the “whys” in this article.
Lupus as a Health Condition
Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is a condition where your immune system attacks your healthy tissues. It’s called an autoimmune illness because it appears that it’s not aware of what it’s been doing. You’ll know about it affecting your skin, joints, brain, heart, kidneys, lungs, and other organs. Its symptoms may vary depending on the person who has it, although they usually include pain, inflammation, fatigue, hair loss, and some cognitive issues. Lupus can be fatal as it can impair your organs to the point of making them dysfunctional. The reported rate of premature deaths of this condition is 10 to 15 percent.
Most of these cases are due to complications such as kidney failure and cardiovascular diseases like stroke and heart attack. It’s the reason why it would be beneficial if you are already aware that you have lupus before it even reaches that point. Nonetheless, with the use of today’s treatments, it’d be possible for patients to still live a normal lifespan like others. These include prescription and alternative medications. You can also add a healthy lifestyle as a natural practice. However, before any of that, you have to start by getting a proper diagnosis which you’ll learn more about in just a bit.
When Diagnosing Lupus
If there’s just one thing that you have to know about lupus diagnosis, it’s that it is not like a stroll in the park. It’s difficult. For one, its symptoms can overlap other conditions that are related to your immune system. These include rheumatoid arthritis (RA), scleroderma, Sjogren’s syndrome, and Raynaud’s phenomenon (fibromyalgia). They can make the task more challenging for not just yourself but also to your doctor. Thus, because of it, you will need not only one test but more. The other problem is that they can be expensive. Although in events like this, money may be the least of your concerns.
Meanwhile, it would help if you listed down the symptoms you encounter when you finally visit your doctor. This is the first step. However, as mentioned earlier, because of the overlapping conditions which manifest mostly similar signs, it may not be easy. You need to undergo a series of laboratory tests that include examining your urine, blood, physical signs or symptoms, and such.
Blood and urine test
This involves your complete blood count, also known as CBC (red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets, and hemoglobin), and a trace of protein in your red blood cells. After all, anemia can be a sign of lupus. A test called erythrocyte sedimentation rate will also be administered. Its purpose is to determine systemic illnesses like lupus where the speed on how fast or slow red blood cells can reach the bottom of a tube in an hour matters. Although it’s a little tricky thing to do, as rapid sedimentation rate can be not only applicable for lupus, but also infection, other inflammatory condition, and even cancer.
A blood test can also assess your kidneys and liver. It would be crucial as these organs can be affected by lupus. Meanwhile, urinalysis is another examination that is done, this time, on your urine sample. It can determine the traces of red blood cells and levels of the protein that are both present in lupus. Lastly is the antinuclear antibody (ANA) test. A positive result of ANA means that your immune system has been stimulated. However, most people who undergo this test showed positive ANA, but that doesn’t mean they all have this condition. It’s just that their immune system is at work.
For such a case, your doctor might advise you to take other more specific antibody assessments. Additionally, an imaging test is also another way to diagnose lupus. This includes a chest x-ray and echocardiogram. The former is used to know about abnormal shadows that can possibly be inflammation or fluid in your lungs. The latter, on the other end, uses sound waves to capture real-time images of your beating heart. It looks out for issues in your valves and its different areas. There’s even another way to diagnose lupus, which is known as the 11 SLE criteria. It’s drafted by the Lupus Research Institute.
The SLE Criteria
1. Discoid skin rash – swollen red patches
2. Nonerosive arthritis – two or more joints with swelling and tenderness
3. Malar rash – butterfly-shaped across your nose and cheeks
4. Neurological disorders – seizures or psychosis
5. Mouth or nose ulcers that are usually painless
6. Photosensitivity – due to an unusual sunlight reaction
7. Hematologic disorder – abnormal blood count
8. Renal disorder – issues in kidneys like too much protein or cellular casts
9. Cardio-pulmonary involvement – pericarditis (inflammation around the lining of the heart) and pleuritis (lungs)
10. Antinuclear antibodies (ANA)
11. Immunologic disorder – antibodies that increase stranded deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and others
The Official Diagnosis
In the end, you would need at least four out of the 11 criteria to have a positive lupus diagnosis. You’ll get them in the results of the mentioned tests earlier. However, as you noticed, there are other issues that may arise because they are not only used for one disease. This what makes it difficult for doctors. Nevertheless, you have to address it in any way you can before you can move to the next step on the ladder.