To unravel which people with positive ANA tests actually have lupus, additional blood work can be done. Doctors look for other potentially troublesome antibodies, so they will test for anti-double-stranded DNA and anti-Smith antibodies. These tests are less likely to be positive unless a patient truly has lupus. However, a person who has negative test results could still have lupus, even though this is not so in the case of ANA tests.
Synovitis is an inflammation of the joint lining, called synovium. The symptoms are often of short duration and may change location although when caused by overuse tend to remain in one joint. The pain is usually more severe than expected based on the appearance of the joint on examination. In fact, sometimes there is pain without swelling or even tenderness in the joint, in which case the symptom is called “arthralgias” (literally meaning “joint pain” in Greek). Although synovitis has many different causes, the most common cause in an active healthy person is overuse.
Dermatomyositis (DM) and polymyositis (PM): While almost all people with lupus have a positive ANA test, only around 30 percent of people with DM and PM do. Many of the physical symptoms are different as well. For instance, people with DM and PM don't have the mouth ulcers, kidney inflammation, arthritis, and blood abnormalities that people with lupus do.
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.
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.
SLE is associated with defects in apoptotic clearance, and the damaging effects caused by apoptotic debris. Early apoptotic cells express “eat-me” signals, of cell-surface proteins such as phosphatidylserine, that prompt immune cells to engulf them. Apoptotic cells also express “find-me” signals, to attract macrophages and dendritic cells. When apoptotic material is not removed correctly by phagocytes, they are captured instead by antigen-presenting cells, which leads to development of antinuclear antibodies.
“My message to patients is that we can do an excellent job of managing the condition compared to 20 years ago,” says Roberto Caricchio, MD, the interim section chief of rheumatology at Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia and the director of the Temple Lupus Clinic at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine. With that said, people should never underestimate the serious effects lupus can have, he adds, which is why working with your doctor to manage the condition is so important.
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