Lupus: How Can Such a Complex Disease Be Diagnosed?

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Lupus Diagnosis

Despite all the medical research, there are still some diseases that leave the medical world baffled and confused. Fibromyalgia, for example, is one of them.

Long considered to be just a form of depression, fibromyalgia is nowadays a medical condition its own “rights” – but people have not yet been able to put their finger on what exactly causes the development of a syndrome with symptoms so diverse as fibromyalgia shows.

Lupus is similar to fibromyalgia in this sense. In the 18th century, doctors started to notice the symptoms of the disease nowadays called “lupus” and they named it like that because they thought that it was caused by wolf bites.

Later on, we did find out that lupus has no actual connection with wolves, but we are still not able to say what the cause of a disease so unforgiving and so complex could be.

Lupus and the Things Doctors Do Know

Lupus is mysterious to its very core. The enigma behind this disease is related mostly to its causes, but diagnosing it can be quite difficult as well, precisely because the symptoms shown by one patient can differ drastically from the symptoms shown by another one.

Basically, lupus attacks the immune system of the human body and causes it to generate autoimmune cells that destroy healthy tissues.

In a healthy body, the immune system is meant to create these cells in order to fight off any potential dangers that come from the outside (a virus, for example).

But when someone develops lupus, the immune system is turned upside down and the chances that person develops various kinds of infections is a lot higher.

Even more than that, lupus can affect every single organ in the human body. From the kidneys to the heart and from the blood cells to the lungs, there is little that can escape the “wrath” of the immune cells created by lupus.

Some of the main symptoms shown by people with lupus include malaise, fatigue, unexplainable fever, hair loss, light sensitivity rashes (the so-called “butterfly rashes”), chest pain experienced when breathing in, mouth sores, swelling, joint pain (and even arthritis) and headaches.

Furthermore, lupus can lead to very, very serious complications as well. When lupus attacks one part of the body, that part can severely fail under the pressure.

Kidney damage, blood clotting, loss of memory, dizziness, unpredictable changes in behavior, cardiovascular diseases, bone tissue death and even miscarriage and forms of cancer – these are just some of the things lupus can lead to.

Under these circumstances, diagnosing lupus can be extremely difficult and the disease can very often go away without proper diagnosis, and therefore proper treatment.

How Does a Doctor Put a Diagnosis, Though?

There are more than 1.5 million Americans diagnosed with lupus and 5 million people in the whole world who suffer from this condition. Clearly, the disease can be diagnosed, but it is not always as easy as it should be.

In addition to the fact that there is a very wide variety of symptoms lupus patients can show, the disease can also have periods of time when it is completely inactive, leading both patients and doctors in error.

Even so, medical associations have come up with a list of 11 symptoms that are specific to this condition. When someone experiences at least 4 of the following symptoms, the chances that he/she has lupus are high:

  1. Photosensitivity
  2. The inflammation of the lung membrane and of the heart membrane
  3. Mucosal ulcers (in the mouth or in the nose)
  4. Arthritis on at least 2 joints
  5. Certain blood disorders (anemia, leucopenia, lymphopenia, and thrombocytopenia)
  6. Rash on the cheeks
  7. Discoid rash
  8. Kidney disorders
  9. Antinuclear antibody test is positive
  10. Immunologic disorders
  11. Neurologic disorders (seizures, psychosis and so on)

Out of all these signs and symptoms, several ones have to be detected by blood tests. Some of the blood tests patients who are suspect of lupus may have to run include the following:

  1. Anti-dsDNA – this test can give the doctor a better idea on whether or not someone has lupus and it can confirm the diagnosis, especially since 75%-90% of the people with the disease show positivity in this test.
  2. Antinuclear antibody – these antibodies are directed against the nuclei of a cell and most of the patients with lupus show positive results in this test.
  3. Antiphospholipid antibodies – these are antibodies directed at the phospholipids in a cell and they are present in almost 60% of the people who suffer from lupus. However, it is important to keep in mind the fact that the presence of these antibodies is not always limited to people with lupus and that it can appear in healthy patients too.
  4. Anti-Ro and anti-La – these antibodies frequently come together and they mainly act against ribonucleic acid. Between 24% and 60% of the lupus patients show positive results in this test as well.

There are several other tests that can confirm some of the 11 signs and symptoms presented above, but the truth is that undergoing just one of them can be inconclusive because most of these antibodies and irregularities can occur in healthy people too.

Can Lupus Be Treated in Any Way?

Lupus cannot be cured because its real cause is unknown to specialists. Yet, it can be managed and there are many people who successfully do it.

In most of the cases, the doctors will administer immunodepressant pills and they will also administer medication that is specific to the patient’s symptoms (which can differ a lot from one person to another, therefore the medication may be very different too). Other than that, complications will be avoided at all costs.

Lupus is difficult to live with and it can have a really strong influence in one’s life. From the fear of not being pregnant to the fact that the pain can become almost insufferable and to the fact that you constantly live with the idea that lupus can be deadly, every single aspect of a lupus patient’s life is complicated.

And yet, so many people do live happy, healthy and normal lives even after the diagnosis that it would be a real pity not to hope at least!

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