Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease where your body attacks healthy tissue. In healthy people, the immune system targets and destroys foreign bodies and diseases. However, in patients with lupus, their bodies cannot distinguish harmful substances and germs from the body’s healthy tissues.
As a result, this disease may affect any part of the body, including the skin, joints, heart, lungs, blood vessels, and kidneys. Often known as “the great imitator,” lupus can be difficult to diagnose as it may appear similar to several other conditions.
What Does Lupus Feel and Look Like?
Not everyone with lupus will have the same symptoms, and the severity of symptoms varies from person to person. Among the most common symptoms that you may see with lupus include:
- Hair loss
- Joint pain or inflammation
- Skin lesions
- Butterfly-shaped rash on the face
- Fingers or toes that turn blue or white upon stress or the cold
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
Many people with lupus may experience their symptoms in a series of episodes, characterized by flare-ups followed by periods of remission. This pattern and its non-specific symptoms play a prominent role in why this condition can be challenging to diagnose.
Lupus Risk Factors
Although lupus may affect anyone, women between 15 and 44 years are at the greatest risk of having lupus. Lupus also tends to affect minority groups, such as black people, Hispanics, and Native Americans, more frequently than Caucasians.
How is Lupus Diagnosed?
There is no one test that can diagnose lupus. Instead, your physician may conduct a combination of different tests to determine if you have the autoimmune disease. Here are a few common tests that may be used to diagnose lupus:
Antinuclear Antibody (ANA) Test
The ANA test is a blood test that measures the level of antinuclear antibodies in your bloodstream. While antibodies are proteins in your immune system that fight foreign bodies, such as bacteria, viruses, and other germs, antinuclear antibodies are proteins that attack healthy cells. A positive ANA test means your body is making antibodies that harm healthy cells, which may indicate that you have lupus or another autoimmune disease. In fact, 97% of people with lupus will receive a positive ANA test.
Complete Blood Test
A complete blood count (CBC) measures the levels of red and white blood cells and platelets in your bloodstream. People affected by lupus often have low red and white blood cell counts and low platelet levels.
Erythrocyte Sedimentation Rate
This blood test calculates how fast red blood cells settle to the bottom of a test tube in one hour. A higher than normal sed rate may be a sign of inflammation in the body, which can be caused by lupus or another systemic issue.
A biopsy is a procedure in which a small sample of tissue is removed from the body for examination under a microscope. Biopsies may be performed with a needle or by making a small cut in the skin and removing a tissue sample with forceps. The samples may indicate signs of lupus nephritis, which is a condition where lupus has affected the kidneys.
A urinalysis, also known as a urine test, examines the levels of protein and blood in your urine. Lupus frequently attacks the body’s kidneys, and elevated levels of protein or blood may indicate signs of kidney disease.
Lupus and Kidney Health
About half of people with lupus may incur kidney damage from the disease, and if left undiagnosed, it can be life-threatening. When lupus attacks the kidney, it is known as lupus nephritis and most often affects the glomeruli, which are the small filters that regulate what toxins pass to your urine. Since kidney problems typically do not produce symptoms until it has reached its advanced stages, patients with lupus should frequently get urine and blood tests to monitor for abnormal results.
Get Tested at The Kidney and Hypertension Center
If you have signs of lupus, it’s critical that you seek professional help. Early diagnosis and treatment to help manage your symptoms can help prevent serious complications. At The Kidney and Hypertension Center, we have the resources to help determine if you have lupus nephritis.
If you believe that you or a loved one has this autoimmune disease, contact us and call (833) 24RENAL today.