Our immune system helps to fight off bacteria, viruses and other antigens by producing antibodies. But in a person having lupus, your immune system is unable to differentiate between your body’s healthy tissues and foreign invaders. It produces auto-antibodies that damages and destroys your own tissues and organs. The symptoms may vary depending upon the area affected and many times resemble the symptoms of other conditions. Hence lupus diagnosis is complex and very challenging.
How to Diagnose Lupus?
A doctor will normally look for signs of inflammation such as pain, heat, swelling, redness and function loss at a specific place in your body to diagnose lupus. Inflammation can occur either on the inside or outside of your body.
While evaluating lupus diagnosis, a physician will carefully review the following:
- Your medical history
- Laboratory results
- Your current symptoms
- medical history of your closed ones
In order to diagnose lupus, all of the above information may be necessary for a doctor.
For detecting any physical changes or condition in your body that occur due to lupus, a variety of laboratory tests are done. The result of each test gives a clear picture to your doctor regarding your illness. However, laboratory tests alone cannot confirm the disease for the following reasons:
- No single laboratory test can confirm a person to have lupus.
- Some test results may show lupus is due to other illnesses or sometimes even seen in healthy people.
- A test result which is positive one time can be negative at another time.
- You get different test results from different laboratories
If multiple symptoms are present simultaneously, a family practitioner, internist or pediatrician—may reach a lupus diagnosis. But often in many cases, lupus symptoms develop gradually over time, hence the lupus diagnosis may not be as obvious, and a rheumatologist may also be consulted.
As lupus symptoms vary from person to person, the best treatment approach involves a team of health care professionals that will provide tailor made treatment for your specific condition.
Using a variety of medications that vary in strength from mild to very strong, physicians treat lupus. During a person’s lifetime with lupus, the prescribed medicines keep changing. For your healthcare team to find the right combination of medications that can keep your symptoms under control, it may take months or in some cases years.
Many categories of drugs are available from which the physicians can recommend for lupus treatment. But the US FDA (Food and Drug Administration) have approved only select few for lupus treatment.
- Antimalarial drugs such as Chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine
- Corticosteroids, including prednisone, methylprednisolone, and hydrocortisone
- Belimumab – a monoclonal antibody
- Acthar which contains a naturally occurring hormone called ACTH (adrenocorticotropic hormone)
A rheumatologist generally treats people with lupus. If the damage occurs in a particular organ due to lupus, then the concerned specialist have to be consulted. For example, a cardiologist for heart disease, a dermatologist for cutaneous lupus, a neurologist for brain and nervous system disease, a nephrologist for kidney disease, or a gastroenterologist for gastrointestinal tract disease. If a woman with lupus is planning for a pregnancy, she may need an obstetrician who can handle high-risk pregnancies.
Depending on your age, general health condition, symptoms and lifestyle, your doctor will devise a treatment plan once lupus is confirmed. The main goals for any treatment plan include the following:
- Reduce the organ damage
- Controlling symptoms like fatigue and joint pain
- Suppressing the hyperactive immune system
- Minimize lupus inflammation
- Prevent flares and treat them when they reoccur
People having lupus may also require other drugs to treat other conditions that may occur with the disease. For instance:
- Drugs for strengthening bones for osteoporosis
- If any infections occur, specific antibiotics are given
- Anticonvulsants for seizure disorders
- Antihypertensive drugs for high BP
- Diuretics for fluid retention