Doctors are tasked with interpreting test results, then correlating them with your symptoms and other test results. It's difficult when patients exhibit vague symptoms and clashing test results, but skillful doctors can consider all of these pieces of evidence and eventually determine whether you have lupus or something else entirely. This may take some time along with trial and error.
Since SLE patients can have a wide variety of symptoms and different combinations of organ involvement, no single test establishes the diagnosis of systemic lupus. To help doctors improve the accuracy of the diagnosis of SLE, 11 criteria were established by the American Rheumatism Association. These 11 criteria are closely related to the symptoms discussed above. Some people suspected of having SLE may never develop enough criteria for a definite diagnosis. Other people accumulate enough criteria only after months or years of observation. When a person has four or more of these criteria, the diagnosis of SLE is strongly suggested. Nevertheless, the diagnosis of SLE may be made in some settings in people with only a few of these classical criteria, and treatment may sometimes be instituted at this stage. Of these people with minimal criteria, some may later develop other criteria, but many never do.
In one study41 that used patients with connective tissue diseases as the control group, the revised ACR diagnostic criteria for systemic lupus erythematosus were found to have an overall sensitivity of 96 percent and a specificity of 96 percent. Other studies21,32,43 have reported sensitivities ranging from 78 to 96 percent and specificities ranging from 89 to 100 percent. The ACR criteria may be less accurate in patients with mild disease.21
Only one population-based screening study13 of systemic lupus erythematosus was identified. This study reported a prevalence of 200 cases per 100,000 women (18 to 65 years of age) in England. One review14 estimated the overall U.S. prevalence of definite systemic lupus erythematosus plus incomplete systemic lupus erythematosus (disease meeting only some diagnostic requirements for systemic lupus erythematosus) to be 40 to 50 cases per 100,000 persons.
While SLE can occur in both males and females, it is found far more often in women, and the symptoms associated with each sex are different. Females tend to have a greater number of relapses, a low white blood cell count, more arthritis, Raynaud's phenomenon, and psychiatric symptoms. Males tend to have more seizures, kidney disease, serositis (inflammation of tissues lining the lungs and heart), skin problems, and peripheral neuropathy.
For instance, a dermatologist for cutaneous lupus (skin disease), a cardiologist for heart disease, a nephrologist for kidney disease, a neurologist for brain and nervous system disease, or a gastroenterologist for gastrointestinal tract disease. A woman with lupus who is considering a pregnancy needs an obstetrician who specializes in high-risk pregnancies.
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