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In the absence of systemic lupus erythematosus, the most common reason for a positive ANA test is the presence of another connective tissue disease. Diseases that often are associated with a positive ANA test include Sjögren's syndrome (68 percent of affected patients), scleroderma (40 to 75 percent), rheumatoid arthritis (25 to 50 percent), and juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (16 percent).20 An ANA test also can be positive in patients with fibromyalgia. In patients with diseases other than systemic lupus erythematosus, ANA titers usually are lower, and the immunofluorescent pattern is different.20
Drugs used to treat lupus include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen and naproxen, alone or combined with other drugs for pain, swelling, and fever. Drugs that work inside cells, including antimalarial drugs such as hydroxychloroquine (Plaquenil) are used for fatigue, joint pain, skin rashes, and inflammation of the lungs. Continuous treatment with antimalarials may prevent lupus flare up from recurring.
People with SLE have intense polyclonal B-cell activation, with a population shift towards immature B cells. Memory B cells with increased CD27+/IgD—are less susceptible to immunosuppression. CD27-/IgD- memory B cells are associated with increased disease activity and renal lupus. T cells, which regulate B-cell responses and infiltrate target tissues, have defects in signaling, adhesion, co-stimulation, gene transcription, and alternative splicing. The cytokines B-lymphocyte stimulator (BLys), interleukin 6, interleukin 17, interleukin 18, type I interferons, and tumor necrosis factor α (TNFα) are involved in the inflammatory process and are potential therapeutic targets.
While the genetics of SLE are not very well understood, there is growing evidence for the involvement of specific genes in this complex autoimmune disease. Part of the complexity of this disease is due to the effects of both environment and genetics factors that may contribute to its development. Further compounding our understanding of the etiology of the disease is the involvement of several organ systems. Genetic studies of the rates of disease in families supports the genetic basis of this disease with a heritability of >66%. Identical (monozygotic) twins were found to share susceptibility to the disease at >35% rate compared to fraternal (dizygotic) twins and other full siblings who only showed a 2–5% concordance in shared inheritance.
Unfortunately, there are no widely accepted diagnostic criteria for SLE. However, many doctors use the American College of Rheumatology (ACR) 11 common criteria. These criteria were designed to identify subjects for research studies, so they are very stringent. If you currently have four or more of these criteria or if you've had them in the past, chances are very high that you have SLE. However, having less than four doesn't rule out SLE. Again, additional testing may be necessary to inform a formal diagnosis. These criteria include:
While the onset and persistence of SLE can show disparities between genders, socioeconomic status also plays a major role. Women with SLE and of lower socioeconomic status have been shown to have higher depression scores, higher body mass index, and more restricted access to medical care than women of higher socioeconomic statuses with the illness. People with SLE had more self-reported anxiety and depression scores if they were from a lower socioeconomic status.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are helpful in reducing inflammation and pain in muscles, joints, and other tissues. Examples of NSAIDs include aspirin, ibuprofen (Motrin), naproxen (Naprosyn), and sulindac (Clinoril). Since the individual response to NSAIDs varies, it is common for a doctor to try different NSAIDs to find the most effective one with the fewest side effects. The most common side effects are stomach upset, abdominal pain, ulcers, and even ulcer bleeding. NSAIDs are usually taken with food to reduce side effects. Sometimes, medications that prevent ulcers while taking NSAIDs, such as misoprostol (Cytotec), are given simultaneously.
Antimalarials are another type of drug commonly used to treat lupus. These drugs prevent and treat malaria, but doctors have found that they also are useful for lupus. A common antimalarial used to treat lupus is hydroxychloroquine. It may be used alone or in combination with other drugs and generally is used to treat fatigue, joint pain, skin rashes, and inflammation of the lungs. Clinical studies have found that continuous treatment with antimalarials may prevent flares from recurring.
More serious organ involvement with inflammation occurs in the brain, liver, and kidneys. White blood cells can be decreased in SLE (referred to as leukopenia or leucopenia). Also, low blood-clotting factors called platelets (thrombocytopenia) can be caused by lupus. Leukopenia can increase the risk of infection, and thrombocytopenia can increase the risk of bleeding. Low red blood cell counts (hemolytic anemia) can occur.
Vasculitis, antiphospholipid antibodies, and renal failure are commonly found in patients with lupus; these conditions greatly increase the risk of developing pulmonary emboli. The diagnosis in a patient with shortness of breath, hemoptysis, and pleuritic chest pain is commonly made with ventilation-perfusion scans or computed tomography (CT) angiography. The CT angiogram demonstrates a filling defect in the left anterior segmental artery (arrow).
Osteoarthritis is the most common form of arthritis, affecting millions of people around the world. Often called wear-and-tear arthritis, osteoarthritis occurs when the protective cartilage on the ends of your bones wears down over time. While osteoarthritis can damage any joint in your body, the disorder most commonly affects joints in your hands, neck, lower back, knees and hips. Osteoarthritis gradually worsens with time, and no cure exists. But osteoarthritis treatments can slow the progression of the disease, relieve pain and improve joint function.
Inflammation of the lining surrounding the lungs, or pleuritis, can occur in people with lupus. This can cause symptoms such as chest pain and shortness of breath, says Luk. The pain can worsen when taking a deep breath, sneezing, coughing, or laughing. (18) Pleural effusion, or fluid around the heart and lungs, may also develop and can cause shortness of breath or chest pain, says Caricchio.
In studies conducted so far, African American patients and patients of African heritage did not appear to respond significantly to belimumab. An additional study of this patient population is planned to evaluate belimumab further in this subgroup of lupus patients. However, this difference in response to a treatment may be another indicator of the various ways that the disease affects different patients.
Periodic follow-up and laboratory testing, including complete blood counts with differential, creatinine, and urinalyses, are imperative for detecting signs and symptoms of new organ-system involvement and for monitoring response and adverse reactions to therapies. At least quarterly visits are recommended in most cases.  Periodic complement levels and dsDNA titers may be used as adjuncts to clinical evaluation for detecting lupus flares.
To ensure that the person has lupus and not another autoimmune disease, the American College of Rheumatology (ACR) established a list of clinical and immunologic criteria that, in any combination, point to SLE. The criteria include symptoms that the person can identify (e.g. pain) and things that a physician can detect in a physical examination and through laboratory test results. The list was originally compiled in 1971, initially revised in 1982, and further revised and improved in 2009.
Erythrocyte sedimentation rate. This blood test determines the rate at which red blood cells settle to the bottom of a tube in an hour. A faster than normal rate may indicate a systemic disease, such as lupus. The sedimentation rate isn't specific for any one disease. It may be elevated if you have lupus, an infection, another inflammatory condition or cancer.
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