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
Symptoms vary from person to person, but the typical lupus patient is a young woman experiencing fever, swollen lymph nodes (glands), butterfly-shaped rash on her face, arthritis of the fingers, wrists or other small joints, hair loss, chest pain and protein in the urine. Symptoms usually begin in only one or two areas of the body, but more may develop over time. The most common signs and symptoms of lupus are:
If your doctor suspects you have lupus based on your symptoms, a series of blood tests will be done in order to confirm the diagnosis. The most important blood screening test is ANA. If ANA is negative, you don’t have lupus. However, if ANA is positive, you might have lupus and will need more specific tests. These blood tests include antibodies to anti-dsDNA and anti-Sm, which are specific to the diagnosis of lupus.
Once a lupus diagnosis has been confirmed by your physician, you will have many questions. Here is a quick list of questions to help you get started in getting the necessary information in order to have a better understanding of your specific symptoms and move forward towards the most successful course of treatment and/or management of the disease. It may also be helpful to have an advocate along with you like a friend or loved one to help you remember important details:
Women with lupus have a higher risk of miscarriage and preterm labor, says Kaplan. Pregnant women with lupus also have a higher risk of preeclampsia, or high blood pressure, and signs that the kidneys and liver may not be functioning well. (20) If you have lupus and do get pregnant (or if you have lupus and are trying to get pregnant), see a high-risk maternal-fetal medicine specialist who has expertise in how to best handle such pregnancies.
Many types of wild seafood provide omega-3 fats that help reduce inflammation levels. The best choices are wild salmon, sardines, mackerel, halibut, trout and anchovies. Aim to consume these omega-3 foods about two to three times weekly, or consider supplementing. Just be sure to buy “wild-caught” to reduce intake of things like heavy metals found in farm-raised fish, plus limit intake of fish high in mercury.
In addition to the oral antimalarial hydroxychloroquine, doctors may prescribe topical steroids for lupus rash. Steroids or antimalarials may also be injected directly into rash lesions. (8) Topical creams containing tacrolimus or pimecrolimus that modulate the skin’s immune response may help manage lupus rash. Oral thalidomide, which affects the immune response, may be prescribed if other therapies don’t work. Doctors may also recommend that people with lupus rash avoid the sun and other ultraviolet light sources and wear sunscreen.
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.
Most patients with systemic lupus erythematosus (unless they’re otherwise advised by their rheumatologist) should be taking an oral antimalarial drug — medications originally used to prevent a malaria infection, but that have been found to help with lupus symptoms, says Dr. Kramer. The antimalarial hydroxychloroquine helps prevent lupus flares, minimizes joint inflammation, and controls fever, fatigue, pleurisy (inflammation of the sac surrounding the lungs), and pericarditis (inflammation of the lining around the heart). The drug is also “the backbone of therapy” for most skin rashes associated with lupus, says Kramer. Mouth sores may also be alleviated with this drug. Chloroquine and quinacrine are other antimalarials drugs used to treat lupus. (3)
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