Lupus is an incredibly complex autoimmune disease and diagnosing lupus can take a lot of time and many doctor visits. Patients will often get diagnosed with other “overlap” diseases such as rheumadoid arthritis (RA), Sjogren’s Syndrome, scleroderma, fibromyalgia or Raynaud’s Phenomenon even before a diagnosis of lupus is made. This can be incredibly frustrating for you as well as your doctors. Understanding the process of getting a lupus diagnosis is one of the most common questions we get here as well as a main topic in the discussions on our Facebook page and our other social media platforms. The goal of this blog is to give a clear understanding of the diagnosis process and provide the tools needed to go back to your doctor (or a new doctor) armed with the information you need.

We conducted a systematic evidence-based review of the published literature on systemic lupus erythematosus. After searching several evidence-based databases (Table 1), we reviewed the MEDLINE database using the PubMed search engine. Search terms included “lupus not discoid not review not case” and “lupus and treatment and mortality,” with the following limits: 1996 to present, abstract available, human, and English language. One author reviewed qualifying studies for relevance and method.


Many drugs have been known to cause this form of the disease, but several are considered primary culprits. They are mainly anti-inflammatories, anticonvulsants, or drugs used to treat chronic conditions such as heart disease, thyroid disease, hypertension (high blood pressure), and neuropsychiatric disorders. The three drugs mostly to blame for drug-induced lupus are:
Photosensitive systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) rashes typically occur on the face or extremities, which are sun-exposed regions. Although the interphalangeal spaces are affected, the metacarpophalangeal (MCP) and proximal interphalangeal (PIP) and distal interphalangeal (DIP) joints are spared. Photo courtesy of Dr. Erik Stratman, Marshfield Clinic.
Most people with lupus have symptoms in only a few organs. If you have not already been diagnosed, the following table may alert you to the possibility of lupus. If you have already been diagnosed, these symptoms may indicate increased activity of the disease, known as a "flare." You may also have periods of remission when few or no symptoms are present. For most people, lupus can be managed and will affect only a few organs. Others may face serious, sometimes life-threatening problems.
Limitations of the test: Like CRP, the ESR is not specific to lupus. Because there are many causes for a positive result, including infection, the test is not diagnostic for lupus. Nor can it distinguish a lupus flare from an infection. Also, the level doesn't directly correlate with lupus disease activity. So it isn't necessarily useful for monitoring disease activity.
The following drugs are commonly used to treat the inflammation and symptoms of lupus. Since lupus manifests in different ways in different people, treatment regimens differ from patient to patient. In addition, one patient may experience several different treatment regimens during her/his lifetime. It is important that you understand the medications you are taking and the risks, benefits, and restrictions associated with them. Please remember to take your medications exactly as directed by your physician and to address any questions or concerns upon your next visit.
Steroids decrease inflammation and may be used to treat many inflammatory conditions and diseases, such as systemic vasculitis, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and Sjögren's syndrome. Steroids are injected, rather than administered orally, to deliver a high dose of medication to a specific area. Side effects of steroid injections include infection, tendon rupture, skin discoloration, allergic reaction, and weakening of bone, ligaments, and tendons.

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.
Lupus nephritis is managed with a combination of glucocorticoids [130] and immunosuppressive agents to slow the progression to end-stage renal disease (ESRD), along with maintaining normal blood pressure levels (ie, target of ≤130/80 mm Hg). [61, 96] In general, individuals with class I or II lupus nephritis do not need management with immunosuppression. [96]
Fernández-Nebro A, Rúa-Figueroa Í, López-Longo FJ, Galindo-Izquierdo M, Calvo-Alén J, Olivé-Marqués A, Ordóñez-Cañizares C, Martín-Martínez MA, Blanco R, Melero-González R, Ibáñez-Rúan J, Bernal-Vidal JA, Tomero-Muriel E, Uriarte-Isacelaya E, Horcada-Rubio L, Freire-González M, Narváez J, Boteanu AL, Santos-Soler G, Andreu JL, Pego-Reigosa JM 2015, ‘Cardiovascular Events in Systemic Lupus Erythematosus: A Nationwide Study in Spain From the RELESSER Registry’, EAS-SER (Systemic Diseases Study Group of Spanish Society of Rheumatology). Medicine (Baltimore), vol. 94, no. 29, viewed 22 September 2017, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26200625

Research has demonstrated evidence that a key enzyme's failure to dispose of dying cells may contribute the development of systemic lupus erythematosus. The enzyme, DNase1, normally eliminates what is called "garbage DNA" and other cellular debris by chopping them into tiny fragments for easier disposal. Researchers turned off the DNase1 gene in mice. The mice appeared healthy at birth, but after six to eight months, the majority of mice without DNase1 showed signs of systemic lupus erythematosus. Thus, a genetic mutation in a gene that could disrupt the body's cellular waste disposal may be involved in the initiation of systemic lupus erythematosus.
Lupus is an inflammatory autoimmune disease that can affect multiple parts of the body including the various organ systems. Doctors prescribe traditional pharmaceutical medications to manage symptoms and prevent flare ups of the disease that can cause more serious problems and complications. Many patients choose to supplement their pharmaceutical care with alternative treatments and lifestyle adjustments like using diet and exercise to minimize lupus symptoms. We discuss this further in our  blog, Lupus/Chronic Illness: The Mind/Body Connection. There exists two major diets widely discussed in the autoimmune world. One is the anti-inflammatory diet and one is called the Paleo Diet.
Testing for antibody to double-stranded DNA antigen (anti-dsDNA) and antibody to Sm nuclear antigen (anti-Sm) may be helpful in patients who have a positive ANA test but do not meet full criteria for the diagnosis of systemic lupus erythematosus. AntidsDNA and anti-Sm, particularly in high titers, have high specificity for systemic lupus erythematosus, although their sensitivity is low. Therefore, a positive result helps to establish the diagnosis of the disease, but a negative result does not rule it out.46 The CAP guideline recommends against testing for other autoantibodies in ANA-positive patients, because there is little evidence that these tests are of benefit.46
Lyme disease is caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi and is transmitted to humans through the bite of infected blacklegged ticks. Typical symptoms include fever, headache, fatigue, and a characteristic skin rash called erythema migraines. If left untreated, infection can spread to joints, the heart, and the nervous system. Lyme disease is diagnosed based on symptoms, physical findings (e.g., rash), and the possibility of exposure to infected ticks; laboratory testing is helpful if used correctly and performed with validated methods. Most cases of Lyme disease can be treated successfully with a few weeks of antibiotics. Steps to prevent Lyme disease include using insect repellent, removing ticks promptly, applying pesticides, and reducing tick habitat. The ticks that transmit Lyme disease can occasionally transmit other tickborne diseases as well.
  According to the Mayo Clinic, “People with lupus should eat plenty of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. These foods are rich in vitamins, minerals and essential nutrients that benefit overall health and can help prevent high blood pressure, heart disease, kidney disease, cancer and digestive disorders. Plant-based diets also support a healthy weight because they are naturally low in calories, fat and cholesterol. Fruits and vegetables are particularly high in antioxidants. Antioxidants protect the body by destroying harmful substances that damage cells and tissue and cause heart disease and cancer.” Take a look at our blog, Lupus: the Diet Dilemma for some great tips. While these diets, or eating plans, may have some merit, individual foods should not be the focus. Pay attention to your overall pattern of nutrition. Reducing inflammation is not just about what you eat.  Patients should also know that these diets are never meant to be a replacement for the lupus treatments they may already be taking under the close supervision of a medical professional. Until more research is in on the effectiveness of these diets, be practical by getting enough sleep and exercise, and try to maintain a healthy weight. Back to top
Antinuclear Antibody Test (ANA):  A positive ANA test for the presence of these antibodies, which are produced by your immune system, indicates a stimulated immune system. While most people with lupus have a positive ANA test, most people with a positive ANA test do not have lupus.  If you have a positive ANA test, more specific antibody testing will most likely be advised.
In the United States, systemic lupus erythematosus is reported to be more common in women, particularly black women, than in white men.14,16 One U.S. retrospective study16 of medical records found that the disease is diagnosed 23 times more often in black women than in white men. The prevalence of the disease is also higher in Hispanic and Asian Americans.16 In addition, a familial predisposition to systemic lupus erythematosus has been identified.17-19
Next, Ms. Everett reviewed some of the key foods that are important for your diet. She emphasized that balance is essential – that is, to not eat too much of one thing and not enough of another. Different foods have different nutritional components. Included in the important foods that Ms. Everett highlighted were a variety of fruits and vegetables; foods low in calories and saturated fats; and foods high in antioxidants, fiber, calcium, vitamin D, and Omega 3 fatty acids.

Infections and diseases of the cardiovascular, renal, pulmonary, and central nervous systems are the most frequent causes of death in patients with systemic lupus erythematosus.8,23,32–37 Since the 1950s, the five-year survival rate for patients with systemic lupus erythematosus has increased from 50 percent to a range of 91 to 97 percent.8,23,32–34,38,39 It is not known how much of this increase in survival is due to improved management versus diagnosis of earlier and milder disease. Higher mortality rates are associated with seizures, lupus nephritis, and azotemia.36,37,40
It is estimated that more than 1.5 million Americans have lupus. African American women are three times more likely than white women to have it. Hispanic, Asian and Native American women also have a higher incidence of lupus. People of all ages, races and sexes can get lupus, but 9 out of 10 adults with the disease are women between the ages of 15 and 45.
If you have lupus, the autoimmune disease in which the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy cells and tissue, then you know there's no such thing as a one-size-fits-all “lupus diet.” But that doesn’t mean that a healthy diet isn’t important to lupus management. You need to eat meals that are balanced and heart-healthy, with nutrient-dense foods that minimize inflammation. It’s not complicated, but there are some basics to follow.

The goal of the informed consent process is to protect participants. It begins when a potential participant first asks for information about a study and continues throughout the study until the study ends. The researcher and potential participant have discussions that include answering the participant’s questions about the research. All the important information about the study must also be given to the potential participant in a written document that is clear and easy to understand. This informed consent document is reviewed and approved by the human subjects review board for a study before it is given to potential participants. Generally, a person must sign an informed consent document to enroll in a study.

One of several different tests used to evaluate the condition of the respiratory system. Measures of expiratory flow and lung volumes and capacities are obtained. The forced vital capacity is one of the more important pulmonary function tests; it provides a measure of the amount of air that can be maximally exhaled after a maximum inspiration and the time required for that expiration. Pulmonary function tests can also determine the diffusion ability of the alveolar-capillary membrane.
SLE is chronic and complex, and is often difficult to diagnose. First, there is no single laboratory test that can determine if a person has SLE. Second, many symptoms of SLE are similar to those of other diseases, and can come and go over weeks and months. Finally, doctors must look at a person’s medical history, rule out other diseases, and consider both physical and laboratory evidence before a SLE diagnosis. The symptoms of SLE vary from patient to patient. 

The clinical manifestations of systemic lupus erythematosus are fundamentally the same in children and adults.15 In two descriptive studies25,26 of children with the disease, the most frequent manifestations were fever, rash, arthritis, alopecia, and renal involvement. Compared with adults, children have a higher incidence of malar rash, anemia, leukocytopenia,27 and severe manifestations such as neurologic or renal involvement.28


Prednisone is used alone or with other medications to treat the symptoms of low corticosteroid levels (lack of certain substances that are usually produced by the body and are needed for normal body functioning). Prednisone is also used to treat other conditions in patients with normal corticosteroid levels. These conditions include lupus, certain types of arthritis; severe allergic reactions; multiple sclerosis (a disease in which the nerves do not function properly); and certain conditions that affect the lungs, skin, eyes, kidneys blood, thyroid, stomach, and intestines. Prednisone is also sometimes used to treat the symptoms of certain types of cancer.

Avoid calcium supplements, however, which Johns Hopkins researchers have found to potentially increase the risk of heart damage and arterial plaque buildup. “Due to the risk of accelerated atherosclerosis in lupus, we no longer recommend calcium supplementation and encourage a diet rich in calcium instead,” noted George Stojan, MD, a rheumatologist and assistant professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins.

The panel recommends HCQ plus LMWH plus LDA over HCQ plus LDA or adding GCs or intravenous Ig for pregnant patients with SLE with antiphospholipid antibodies and recurrent pregnancy loss (strong recommendation based on moderate certainty of the evidence (LMWH plus LDA vs other alternatives) and very low certainty of the evidence (GCs and intravenous Ig vs other alternatives), since high certainty of harms related to GCs (increased premature delivery) and intravenous Ig (costs increase, burden related to drug administration) exists).
Mercury is toxic to our bodies and can be one piece of the puzzle for those with lupus and other chronic illnesses such as chronic fatigue syndrome, other autoimmune diseases, neurological disorders, and cancer. Mercury overload is far more common than many people think. We’re exposed to mercury in our air and water, the fish we eat, amalgam fillings, cosmetics, and vaccines. I recommend heavy metal testing for all of my patients with autoimmunity, using a pre- and post-DMPS urine challenge test. I also recommend that anyone with mercury amalgam fillings find a biological dentist and have them removed.
The following drugs are commonly used to treat the inflammation and symptoms of lupus. Since lupus manifests in different ways in different people, treatment regimens differ from patient to patient. In addition, one patient may experience several different treatment regimens during her/his lifetime. It is important that you understand the medications you are taking and the risks, benefits, and restrictions associated with them. Please remember to take your medications exactly as directed by your physician and to address any questions or concerns upon your next visit.

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Please Note: The material on this site is provided for informational purposes only and is not medical advice. Always consult your physician before beginning any diet or exercise program.

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