One common early symptom that can be indicative of lupus is a photosensitive rash, meaning a rash that develops in response to sun exposure, particularly on the face and upper arms, says Dr. Kramer. Other early symptoms are unexplained fever and pain, swelling, and stiffness of multiple joints. Complications such as inflammation of the lining surrounding the lungs or heart can also occur early on, he adds.
There is no single test to definitively diagnose lupus, and it could take months or even years to be sure. Typically, your doctor will conduct a complete medical history and physical exam, including blood tests. The doctor may also perform skin and kidney biopsies (extracting tissue samples that are then examined under a microscope) to make a diagnosis.
Lupus is not necessarily life threatening when treated appropriately. Up to 90 percent of patients will have a normal life expectancy if they are followed closely by their doctor and receive proper treatment. (4,5) Lupus can, however, increase mortality rates because patients have a higher risk of heart disease, infection or complications such as inflammation of the kidney, or nephritis, says Francis Luk, MD, an assistant professor of rheumatology and immunology, Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center.
Other drugs used to treat lupus include the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine, which modulates the immune system, and belimumab, a targeted drug that is a biologic (meaning it’s made from natural sources). Some chemotherapy drugs and anti-rejection drugs may be used, too, to treat patients with lupus nephritis or other organ problems, says Caricchio.
The monoclonal antibody belimumab (Benlysta), a B-lymphocyte stimulator–specific inhibitor, has been found to reduce disease activity and possibly decrease the number of severe flares and steroid use in patients with SLE when used in combination with standard therapy.  In March, 2011, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of belimumab in combination with standard therapies (including steroids, nonbiologic DMARDS [eg, hydroxychloroquine, azathioprine, methotrexate]) to treat active autoantibody-positive SLE.  In July 2017, a subcutaneous (SC) formulation was approved that allows patients to self-administer a once-weekly dose. 
A normal-range ANA titer in the context of organ system involvement that suggests systemic lupus erythematosus should prompt a work-up for alternative diagnoses. If no other cause is identified, the diagnosis of ANA-negative systemic lupus erythematosus and consultation with a rheumatologist should be considered. If patients with a normal ANA titer develop new clinical features that are consistent with systemic lupus erythematosus, ANA testing should be repeated.46 [Evidence level C, consensus/expert guidelines]
Individual test results can also vary from one visit to another, which can be very confusing. A doctor will take into consideration a combination of factors as well as the test results when diagnosing lupus, and because of this, we encourage you inquire about the ANA and DNA testing, which doctors are often reluctant to give. These two tests together can create a clearer picture of whether the diagnosis could be lupus. Again, we must remind you that just because you test negative today, it does not mean that you won’t test positive tomorrow.
An antinuclear antibody (ANA) test is a sensitive screening tool used to detect autoimmune diseases, including lupus. Antinuclear antibodies (ANAs) are antibodies that are directed against certain structures within a cell's nucleus (thus, antinuclear antibody). ANAs are found in particular patterns in people with autoimmune diseases (those in which a person's immune system works against his or her own body).
Inflammation of the kidneys caused by an autoimmune disease called systemic lupus erythematosus. The condition can cause hematuria and proteinuria, and it may progress to end-stage renal disease. The most severe form of lupus nephritis, called diffuse proliferative nephritis, can cause scars to form in the kidneys. Scars are permanent, and kidney function often declines as more scars form. Early diagnosis and treatment may help prevent long-lasting damage.
Kidney inflammation in SLE (lupus nephritis) can cause leakage of protein into the urine, fluid retention, high blood pressure, and even kidney failure. This can lead to further fatigue and swelling (edema) of the legs and feet. With kidney failure, machines are needed to cleanse the blood of accumulated waste products in a process called dialysis.
Because the symptoms of lupus can mimic so many other health problems, you may need patience while waiting for a diagnosis. Your doctor must rule out a number of other illnesses before diagnosing lupus. You may need to see a number of specialists such as doctors who treat kidney problems (nephrologists), blood disorders (hematologists) or nervous system disorders (neurologists) depending on your symptoms to help with diagnosis and treatment.
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