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Diagnosing Lupus

Given that lupus affects everyone differently, it’s difficult to diagnose. Rheumatologists have a list of traits that many people with lupus have in common. If four or more of these traits apply to you, you may be diagnosed with lupus.

Symptoms

If your doctor thinks you may have lupus, they’ll start by asking you questions about your symptoms. Many people with lupus experience these symptoms:

  • Skin problems
  • Malar rash: a butterfly-shaped rash on the cheeks and nose
  • Discoid rash: round, disc-shaped sores, usually on the face and scalp
  • Oral ulcers: sores inside the mouth
  • Photosensitivity: a reaction to sun or light that causes a skin rash to appear or get worse

Other Symptoms

  • Arthritis: inflammation that causes pain and swelling in the joints
  • Problems with the brain and nervous system, like seizures (sudden, unusual movements or behavior) or psychosis (losing touch with reality)
  • Serositis: inflammation in the lining around your heart or lungs that causes chest pain to get worse when you take a deep breath

Lab Tests

Lab tests help doctors check for changes in your body that could be caused by lupus. When your doctor reviews your test results, they’ll look for these common signs of lupus:

  • Unusual antinuclear antibodies (ANA): the ANA test checks for a type of antibodies in your blood that attack healthy cells and tissues
  • Other unusual antibodies: in addition to ANA, there are blood tests that check for different types of antibodies, like anti-DNA, anti-Sm, or positive phospholipid antibodies
  • Certain blood disorders, like anemia (not having enough red blood cells to carry oxygen through the body) or problems with your white blood cells or platelets
  • Kidney problems: your doctor may give you a urine test to check how well your kidneys are working to filter waste out of your body.