Lupus, formally known as Systemic Lupus Erythematosus or SLE, is one of the hardest known autoimmune diseases to diagnose.
There is no specific test available to diagnose lupus. Additionally, the symptoms that are associated with the disease are common to a number of autoimmune diseases and autoimmune connective tissue disorders.
It can take months, and sometimes years for a doctor to give a patient a definite diagnosis of lupus.
Obstacles to Lupus Diagnosis
There are five key obstacles in the diagnosis of lupus as follows:
- There is no specific test for lupus. There are clinical tests that are used to help in the diagnosis, but results from those tests could be an indication of other health issues or autoimmune diseases, such as the ANA result, also known as Antinuclear Antibody, and other blood test results.
- The symptoms displayed by the patient are common to any number of other health conditions, especially other autoimmune diseases. The most common symptoms of lupus are skin rashes, pain and swelling of the joints, and fatigue. Other symptoms include intermittent fever, dry eyes or mouth, difficulty focusing, personality changes, loss of appetite, hair loss, and more.
- It is rare for two people who have the disease to display symptoms in the same way, and the length of time that a patient will experience symptoms cannot be predicted. Because of this, if a person knows someone who has lupus, and they do not have the same symptoms, that person may make the mistake of not consulting a rheumatologist to confirm or rule out lupus.
- A butterfly rash is a common symptom of lupus. This is a rash that spreads across the cheeks and bridge of the nose. Many people mistakenly believe that if you never have the butterfly rash, you do not have lupus. This is not true at all. Just over half of all people who have the disease ever develop a butterfly rash.
- Symptoms of lupus often go unreported because they are not thought to be significant, or because the patient forgets about minor symptoms between doctor visits, so those symptoms are never reported. The best way to avoid this is to keep a journal, and always write down the date, your symptoms, and how long those symptoms last, regardless of how minor or insignificant they may seem.
Lupus really is tricky in that the symptoms can seem to suggest many other illnesses or conditions, such as arthritis, the flu, fibromyalgia, thyroid disease, depression, various skin conditions, or even multiple sclerosis.
You must work with a rheumatologist and make sure that you get a second opinion once a diagnosis is made. The sooner lupus is diagnosed, the sooner you and your doctor can determine what treatments to use to control your lupus symptoms, and enable you to get on with living your life.