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.
The lupus erythematosus (LE) cell test was commonly used for diagnosis, but it is no longer used because the LE cells are only found in 50–75% of SLE cases, and they are also found in some people with rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma, and drug sensitivities. Because of this, the LE cell test is now performed only rarely and is mostly of historical significance.[72]
16α-OH 16α-hydroxyestrone; 2-OH 2-hydroxyestrone; Akt protein kinase B; BAFF B-cell activating factor; EGCG epigallocatechin gallate; ER oestrogen receptor; EVOO extra virgin olive oil; FOXP3 forkhead box P3; I3C indole-3-carbinol; IFN interferon; LPS lipopolysaccharide; MRL Murphy Roths large; NZB/W New Zealand black/white; Nrf-2 nuclear factor E2-related factor 2; SLE systemic lupus erythematosus; Th T-helper; Treg regulatory T-cell; dsDNA double-stranded DNA; ppm parts per million; Diet; Immunomodulation; Lupus; Nutrients; Systemic lupus erythematosus

The cause of SLE is not clear.[1] It is thought to involve genetics together with environmental factors.[4] Among identical twins, if one is affected there is a 24% chance the other one will be as well.[1] Female sex hormones, sunlight, smoking, vitamin D deficiency, and certain infections, are also believed to increase the risk.[4] The mechanism involves an immune response by autoantibodies against a person's own tissues.[1] These are most commonly anti-nuclear antibodies and they result in inflammation.[1] Diagnosis can be difficult and is based on a combination of symptoms and laboratory tests.[1] There are a number of other kinds of lupus erythematosus including discoid lupus erythematosus, neonatal lupus, and subacute cutaneous lupus erythematosus.[1]
“NHS dieticians seem to specialise in those struggling to lose (rather than gain) weight in my experience. On my initial consultation I was given a booklet with advice based on eating a full English breakfast, then snacks like doughnuts and pork pies. My sons would be thrilled to get medical advice to eat like that! The nutritional supplements they offer taste extremely artificial to me. I can only eat a little and very slowly, so get to ‘savour’ every sip of it. I’m trying protein shakes I buy myself, which taste better, but just one of those is very filling.”
If you have lupus, you may experience dry mouth. Your eyes may feel gritty and dry, too. That’s because some people with lupus develop Sjogren’s disease, another autoimmune disorder. Sjogren’s causes the glands responsible for tears and saliva to malfunction, and lymphocytes can accumulate in the glands. In some cases, women with lupus and Sjogren’s may also experience dryness of the vagina and skin.
Autoantibodies directed against various nuclear antigens including DAutoantibodies directed against various nuclear antigens including DNA, RNA, histones, acidic nuclear proteins, or complexes of these molecular elements. Antinuclear antibodies are found in systemic autoimmune diseases including systemic lupus erythematosus, Sjogren’s syndrome, scleroderma, polymyositis, and mixed connective tissue disease. Autoantibodies directed against various nuclear antigens including DNA, RNA, histones, acidic nuclear proteins, or complexes of these molecular elements. Antinuclear antibodies are found in systemic autoimmune diseases including systemic lupus erythematosus, Sjogren’s syndrome, scleroderma, polymyositis, and mixed connective tissue disease.
The clearance of early apoptotic cells is an important function in multicellular organisms. It leads to a progression of the apoptosis process and finally to secondary necrosis of the cells if this ability is disturbed. Necrotic cells release nuclear fragments as potential autoantigens, as well as internal danger signals, inducing maturation of dendritic cells (DCs), since they have lost their membranes' integrity. Increased appearance of apoptotic cells also stimulates inefficient clearance. That leads to maturation of DCs and also to the presentation of intracellular antigens of late apoptotic or secondary necrotic cells, via MHC molecules. Autoimmunity possibly results by the extended exposure to nuclear and intracellular autoantigens derived from late apoptotic and secondary necrotic cells. B and T cell tolerance for apoptotic cells is abrogated, and the lymphocytes get activated by these autoantigens; inflammation and the production of autoantibodies by plasma cells is initiated. A clearance deficiency in the skin for apoptotic cells has also been observed in people with cutaneous lupus erythematosus (CLE).[67]
The cause of SLE is not clear.[1] It is thought to involve genetics together with environmental factors.[4] Among identical twins, if one is affected there is a 24% chance the other one will be as well.[1] Female sex hormones, sunlight, smoking, vitamin D deficiency, and certain infections, are also believed to increase the risk.[4] The mechanism involves an immune response by autoantibodies against a person's own tissues.[1] These are most commonly anti-nuclear antibodies and they result in inflammation.[1] Diagnosis can be difficult and is based on a combination of symptoms and laboratory tests.[1] There are a number of other kinds of lupus erythematosus including discoid lupus erythematosus, neonatal lupus, and subacute cutaneous lupus erythematosus.[1]
EULAR recommendations for the management of SLE with neuropsychiatric manifestations support the evaluation and treatment of these symptoms in the same way as they are evaluated and treated in patients without SLE; if symptoms persist, management of these symptoms as an extension of SLE should be considered. [83, 61] For example, in patients with neuropsychiatric manifestations that may have an inflammatory etiology, immunosuppressive agents may be considered. [61]

Vasculitis affecting medium and small arteries, particularly at the point of bifurcation and branching. Segmental inflammation and fibrinoid necrosis of blood vessels lead to ischemia of the areas normally supplied by these arteries. Signs and symptoms depend on the location of the affected vessels and organs, but patients usually present with symptoms of multisystem disease, including fever, malaise, weight loss, hypertension, renal failure, myalgia, peripheral neuritis, and gastrointestinal bleeding; these may occur episodically. Unlike most types of vasculitis, PAN does not affect glomerular capillaries although other renal vessels are involved. The disease is associated with hepatitis B and C.


These are used in packaged/processed products and often to fry foods. Cooking at home more and avoiding fast foods, processed meats, and packaged sweets or cheeses can help you decrease your intake. Some people with lupus have a hard time metabolizing saturated fats and should limit sources like cheese, red meat and creamy foods if they causes symptoms to worsen.
The underlying trigger to develop these antibodies in lupus is unknown, although experts believe that a combination of genetic, environmental, and possibly hormonal factors are involved. The fact that lupus can run in families suggests that there is a genetic basis for its development, but so far no single “lupus gene” has been identified. Experts suspect that several different genes may be involved in determining an individual’s chance of developing the disease, as well as which tissues and organs are affected, and how severe the disease will be if it does occur. Other factors being investigated as contributing to the onset of lupus are overexposure to sunlight, stress, certain drugs, and viruses and other infectious agents.
Autoreactive B cells can accidentally emerge during somatic hypermutation and migrate into the germinal center light zone. Autoreactive B cells, maturated coincidentally, normally do not receive survival signals by antigen planted on follicular dendritic cells and perish by apoptosis. In the case of clearance deficiency, apoptotic nuclear debris accumulates in the light zone of GC and gets attached to FDC. This serves as a germinal centre survival signal for autoreactive B-cells. After migration into the mantle zone, autoreactive B cells require further survival signals from autoreactive helper T cells, which promote the maturation of autoantibody-producing plasma cells and B memory cells. In the presence of autoreactive T cells, a chronic autoimmune disease may be the consequence.
Because the antibodies and accompanying cells of inflammation can affect tissues anywhere in the body, lupus has the potential to affect a variety of areas. Sometimes lupus can cause disease of the skin, heart, lungs, kidneys, joints, and/or nervous system. When only the skin is involved by rash, the condition is called lupus dermatitis or cutaneous lupus erythematosus. A form of lupus dermatitis that can be isolated to the skin, without internal disease, is called discoid lupus erythematosus. When internal organs are involved, the condition is referred to as systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE).
Acute cutaneous LE typically presents in the third decade of life and is frequently associated with active SLE. There are localized and generalized forms of ACLE. The localized form is the frequently described malar, or “butterfly” rash, which refers to erythema that occurs over both cheeks, extends over the nasal bridge, and spares the nasolabial folds. These lesions are classically transient, sun-induced, and non-scarring, although dyspigmentation can occur. Patients may initially mistake this rash for a sunburn, and only seek medical attention when it persists for several days. A fine surface scale and/or edema may be associated with the erythema. Malar rashes have been reported to be present in up to 52% of SLE patients at the time of diagnosis, with clinical activity of the rash paralleling that of the systemic disease. This rash can be confused with acne rosacea and seborrheic dermatitis, however the former is associated with the formation of papules and pustules, and the latter occurs within the nasolabial folds.
The discovery of the LE cell led to further research and this resulted in more definitive tests for lupus. Building on the knowledge that those with SLE had auto-antibodies that would attach themselves to the nuclei of normal cells, causing the immune system to send white blood cells to fight off these "invaders", a test was developed to look for the anti-nuclear antibody (ANA) rather than the LE cell specifically. This ANA test was easier to perform and led not only to a definitive diagnosis of lupus but also many other related diseases. This discovery led to the understanding of what are now known as autoimmune diseases.[119]
Lupus, also known as Systemic Lupus Erythematosus or SLE, is a complex disease that can be difficult to diagnose. It affects many areas of body including the joints, skin and kidneys. More than 200,000 people in the U.S. are diagnosed with lupus each year.  Like other autoimmune diseases, in lupus, cells essentially make the bad decision to attack the body’s own cells.

Maybe. Start by seeing your family doctor and a rheumatologist, a doctor who specializes in the diseases of joints and muscles such as lupus. Depending on your symptoms or whether your organs have been hurt by your lupus, you may need to see other types of doctors. These may include nephrologists, who treat kidney problems, and clinical immunologists, who treat immune system disorders.


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 removal of plasma from a patient (usually to treat an immmunologically mediated illness such as thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura or myasthenia gravis) and its replacement with normal plasma. Plasma exchange therapy can also be used to replace excessively viscous plasma in patients with Waldenström macroglobulinemia. Pathological antibodies, immune complexes, and protein-bound toxins are removed from the plasma by plasma exchange. Immunoglobulin infusions are an alternative to plasma exchange when treating some immunological illnesses, including Guillain-Barré syndrome and chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy.
*All images unless otherwise noted are property of and were created by Kaleidoscope Fighting Lupus. To use one of these images, please contact us at info@kflupus.org for written permission; image credit and link-back must be given to Kaleidoscope Fighting Lupus. **All resources provided by us are for informational purposes only and should be used as a guide or for supplemental information, not to replace the advice of a medical professional. The personal views do not necessarily encompass the views of the organization, but the information has been vetted as a relevant resource. We encourage you to be your strongest advocate and always contact your medical provider with any specific questions or concerns.    
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]
People with SLE need more rest during periods of active disease. Researchers have reported that poor sleep quality was a significant factor in developing fatigue in people with SLE. These reports emphasize the importance for people and physicians to address sleep quality and the effect of underlying depression, lack of exercise, and self-care coping strategies on overall health. During these periods, carefully prescribed exercise is still important to maintain muscle tone and range of motion in the joints.
Granulocytes and monocytes, collectively called myeloid cells, are differentiated descendants from common progenitors derived from hematopoietic stem cells in the bone marrow. Commitment to either lineage of myeloid cells is controlled by distinct transcription factors followed by terminal differentiation in response to specific colony-stimulating factors and release into the circulation. Upon pathogen invasion, myeloid cells are rapidly recruited into local tissues via various chemokine receptors, where they are activated for phagocytosis as well as secretion of inflammatory cytokines, thereby playing major roles in innate immunity.
In addition to the 11 criteria, other tests can be helpful in evaluating people with SLE to determine the severity of organ involvement. These include routine testing of the blood to detect inflammation (for example, the erythrocyte sedimentation rate, or ESR, and the C-reactive protein, or CRP), blood-chemistry testing, direct analysis of internal body fluids, and tissue biopsies. Abnormalities in body fluids (joint or cerebrospinal fluid) and tissue samples (kidney biopsy, skin biopsy, and nerve biopsy) can further support the diagnosis of SLE. The appropriate testing procedures are selected for the patient individually by the doctor.
The cause of lupus remains unknown, but there is solid evidence that genetics, epigenetics (changes in chromosomes that affect gene activity), environmental factors, viruses and infections play a role. Further study of these variables is expected to improve our understanding of causes, which should lead to improved diagnosis, prognosis, prevention, and treatment.
Researchers have made great progress in identifying people at-risk for lupus and the molecular markers (something found in cells that can predict lupus flares) that appear before the onset of symptoms. From these advances, scientists hope to generate early-intervention or even disease-prevention strategies. For people with established lupus, research is focused on designing new clinical trials that test drug candidates, which, if successful, could be combined with existing therapies. The Lupus Research Alliance is funding the most innovative research in the world, with the hope of finding better diagnostics, improved treatment and, eventually, a cure.

Inflammation associated with lupus and other autoimmune reactions largely stems from an overactive immune system and poor gut health. Leaky gut syndrome can develop in those with lupus, which results in small openings in the gut lining opening up, releasing particles into the bloodstream and kicking off an autoimmune cascade. This inflammatory process can wind up increasing the risk for many conditions, including heart disease or hypertension, weight gain, joint deterioration, and bone loss, just to name a few. (5)


Lupus can affect men and women of any race or age. One in 2,000 people in the United States has lupus. People of African, Asian and Native American descent are more likely to develop lupus than are Caucasians. In addition, the disease develops in Emiratis at an earlier stage compared to Asians and expatriate Arabs working in UEA. Lupus studies also show racial preferences, being more prevalent among Arabs than Asians in the UAE region.
In general, cutaneous manifestations, musculoskeletal manifestations, and serositis represent milder disease, which may wax and wane with disease activity. These are often controlled with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) or low-potency immunosuppression medications beyond hydroxychloroquine and/or short courses of corticosteroids. More prolonged steroid use is generally reserved for patients with involvement of vital organs. For example, central nervous system involvement and diffuse proliferative renal disease must be recognized as more severe disease manifestations, and these are often treated with more aggressive immunosuppression. Evidence suggests a relative undertreatment of SLE patients with end-stage renal disease (ESRD), because the extent of lupus activity may be underestimated. [105]

The American College of Rheumatology (ACR) established eleven criteria in 1982,[73] which were revised in 1997[74] as a classificatory instrument to operationalise the definition of SLE in clinical trials. They were not intended to be used to diagnose individuals and do not do well in that capacity. For the purpose of identifying people for clinical studies, a person has SLE if any 4 out of 11 symptoms are present simultaneously or serially on two separate occasions.
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.
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.[5] 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.[12]

How an autoimmune disease affects you depends on what part of the body is targeted. If the disease affects the joints, as in rheumatoid arthritis, you might have joint pain, stiffness, and loss of function. If it affects the thyroid, as in Graves’ disease and thyroiditis, it might cause tiredness, weight gain, and muscle aches. If it attacks the skin, as it does in scleroderma/systemic sclerosis, vitiligo, and systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), it can cause rashes, blisters, and color changes.


Alternative treatments are those that are not part of standard treatment. At this time, no research shows that alternative medicine can treat lupus. Some alternative or complementary approaches may help you cope or reduce some of the stress associated with living with a chronic illness. You should talk to your doctor before trying any alternative treatments.
When lupus starts affecting other organs of the body, doctors often prescribe drugs that suppress the immune system, says Kramer. (Lupus causes the body’s immune system to mistakenly attack itself. Immunosuppressive medications help stop that from happening.) One such example, is Cytoxan (cyclophosphamide), originally an anticancer drug. It suppresses the immune system and may be used to reduce inflammation of the kidney, or nephritis, says Dr. Kaplan.

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