Diagnosis of Lupus

Systemic lupus erythematosus, more commonly known as lupus, is an autoimmune disorder that causes a wide variety of symptoms and side effects. Because of the variety of symptoms, lupus can be very difficult to diagnose. In fact, a definitive diagnosis of lupus can sometimes require numerous tests over a number of years.

Signs and symptoms that can indicate lupus

Symptoms of lupus can vary from one individual to another; however, some signs and symptoms are common to the majority of lupus sufferers:

  • Joint pain. Pain often occurs in the joints of the fingers, wrists, elbows or ankles. Joints may swell, redden and grow unusually warm.
  • Muscle pain. In combination with joint pain, muscle pain is often one of the first symptoms of lupus.
  • Fatigue. This can vary from mild to severe. Those who have been diagnosed with lupus often experience fatigue as a precursor to a flare-up of other symptoms.
  • Rash. A butterfly-shaped rash is commonly found on the face. Other rashes, flaking and other skin issues may also be present.

These symptoms can occur due to other illnesses, but if several of them occur at once, lupus might be indicated. Doctors usually recommend additional testing if several physical symptoms seem to suggest lupus as a cause.

Less common lupus symptoms

Other symptoms occur in many lupus sufferers but are less common than the major symptoms of joint and muscle pain, fatigue and skin problems. These include:

  • Headaches. Chronic headaches can be a symptom of a problem in the nervous system. Lupus can also lead to other issues related to the nervous system, such as muscle weakness or memory loss, but this is uncommon.
  • Light sensitivity. Exposure to light can make skin rashes worse. UV radiation is particularly likely to cause problems, so lupus sufferers should avoid exposure to direct sunlight, as well as tanning beds.
  • Heart and lung issues. Inflammation can occur in the membranes surrounding the heart and lungs.
  • Fever. Lupus can cause a persistent fever.

Other infrequent symptoms include depression and/or anxiety, swollen glands, hair loss, weight loss, swelling of the lymph nodes and swelling in the extremities due to problems with the kidneys.

How lupus is diagnosed

With the wide range of symptoms, diagnosis of lupus can be difficult. Many lupus symptoms are also symptomatic of other problems including fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, vasculitis and chronic fatigue syndrome. Doctors perform tests designed to detect certain antibodies and other markers in the blood and urine that can indicate lupus; however, these tests taken individually do not provide sufficient evidence to diagnose lupus.

Doctors depend upon a combination of physical symptoms and positive test results to make a diagnosis. Because symptoms can appear one at a time over a long period, this often delays diagnosis. If you have noticed four physical symptoms and show positive test results for specific antibodies, your doctor might consider this enough for a diagnosis or might recommend additional tests for confirmation.

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