How is Lupus Diagnosed?

Lupus (systemic lupus erhthematosus) is a chronic autoimmune disease. Your immune system, which normally protects your body from harm, fails to distinguish between a foreign invader and the body's own tissue. Therefore, it creates antibodies to attack and destroy healthy tissue. Lupus can affect any part of the body.

Approximately 1.5 million Americans, typically women between 15 and 44, have lupus. African Americans, Hispanics, and Asians are much more likely than Caucasians to develop lupus.

Diagnosing Lupus

Lupus is difficult to diagnose. The symptoms are similar to other diseases, and no two cases are alike. Lupus can come on suddenly or gradually; be mild or severe; and the symptoms can be temporary or permanent. The most common symptoms of lupus are pain, heat, redness, swelling, and loss of function at a particular place in the body, such as a joint. Other symptoms may include fever, extreme fatigue, hair loss, and fingers and toes that turn blue when cold.

There is no one definitive test for diagnosing lupus. Your physician will generally use a battery of evaluation techniques. He will conduct a physical exam and collect information about symptoms and your personal and family medical history. He might also run a battery of laboratory tests, such as these, to rule out other diseases and confirm a lupus diagnosis.

  • Blood tests to measure white blood cells and the rate at which red blood cells settle to the bottom of a test tube (a fast rate is a sign of disease)
  • Kidney and liver assessment
  • Urine analysis
  • Antinuclear antibody test (measures the presence of antibodies, which indicate your immune system is stimulated)
  • Imaging, such as chest x-ray or echocardiogram
  • Biopsy

General practitioners can diagnose lupus; however, a specialist-usually a rheumatologist-is frequently involved. Patients' diagnoses tend to evolve over time as their physicians eliminate other possible diseases.

Lupus puts people at risk for other serious health conditions, such as infection, cancer, bone tissue death, heart disease, osteoporosis, and kidney disease. Lupus is not usually fatal, but can be, depending upon the severity of the disease, how the body responds to treatment, and other factors. Infections are the leading cause of death in lupus patients.

If you experience strange symptoms, don't wait to see your physician. It's unlikely you have lupus, but better to rule it out than delay treatment.


Lupus Foundation of America. "What is Lupus." Web.


Lupus Foundation of America. "How is Lupus Diagnosed." Web.

Lupus Foundation of America. "Common Symptoms of Lupus." Web.

Mayo Clinic. "Lupus." Web. 2 August 2011.

Anderson, Carl F., M.D. "How Does Lupus Affect My Kidneys?" Mayo Clinic. Web. 26 April 2012.

National Center for Biotechnology Information. "Systemic Lupus Erythematosus." PubMed Health. Web. 14 February 2011.

National Center for Biotechnology Information. "Fatigue in Autoimmune Diseases: Which Non-drug Treatments Can Help? PubMed Health. Web. 21 August 2008. "Lupus Fact Sheet." Web. 13 June 2011.