What is Involved in Making a Diagnosis of Lupus?

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  • Written By: Erin J. Hill
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 25 April 2019
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There is no one specific test used for making a diagnosis of lupus because the disease can affect so many different systems of the body in a variety of ways. Generally, doctors check for several symptoms which are present in most lupus patients. There are eleven in all, and each of them is needed for a definite diagnosis. Patients who have four of more may be given treatment because this indicates that there is enough evidence of the disease to make medication more beneficial than harmful. The symptoms noted in lupus patients include a butterfly shaped rash on the face, a red patchy rash on the body, skin rash associated with sun exposure, ulcers which appear in the mucus membranes, arthritis, irritation in the brain, swelling around the lungs or heart, improperly functioning kidneys, the presence of antinuclear antibodies, abnormal immune function and low blood cell counts.


Since there is no particular clinical test for the diagnosis of lupus, doctors must rely on this combination of symptoms. Some patients do not exhibit all 11 of them, although occasionally additional symptoms will develop over time. Some doctors begin treatment with four or five symptoms being present, but this is not always the case. Each health care specialist may have his or her own set number of symptoms required before beginning treatment. Patients who do not have the minimum number of symptoms may be monitored on a regular basis to determine if additional problems will develop.

The most common symptom needed for a diagnosis of lupus is a butterfly-shaped rash on the face, usually on the nose and cheeks. This alone is usually a strong indicator of the disease. There are other tests which may help indicate the presence of lupus when combined with symptoms. These can include blood tests to detect organ function and inflammation as well as tissue sampling.

After a diagnosis of lupus has been made, treatment usually begins immediately. Medications are the most common form of treatment, especially anti-inflammatory drugs and those used to improve organ function. Occasionally certain diet and exercise regimens will be recommended, primarily to avoid pain and stiffness associated with arthritis.

There is no cure for lupus, and it must be treated for the rest of the patient’s life after diagnosis is made. Symptoms can go into remission followed by periods of flare-ups in which symptoms are more prominent. Taking medications on time and seeing a doctor routinely is the best course of action for most patients. Sometimes a flare in symptoms can be avoided.



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