Learning If You Have Lupus and What To Do About It

If you have symptoms of lupus, there are a variety of ways in which a doctor can diagnose the disease. Lupus can be difficult to diagnose, because many other diseases have similar symptoms, and symptoms vary from woman to woman. The process of diagnosis may be lengthy. Your doctor's knowledge of lupus and your ability to communicate with your doctor are important in determining whether your symptoms are due to lupus.

Making a Diagnosis

No single test can determine if a person has lupus. Some of the ways doctors diagnose lupus include:

  • Learning your medical history
  • Doing a complete physical examination
  • Doing lab tests Some of these tests may include:
  • Complete blood count (CBC)
  • Erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR)
  • Urinalysis (urine test)
  • Blood chemistries
  • Complement levels
  • Antinuclear antibody test (ANA)
  • Other antibody tests
  • Syphilis test
  • Skin or kidney biopsy If you want to learn more about these tests, see the "Helpful Resources" on this page.

Adapted from Lupus Handout on Health, NIAMS

Tips for Working With Your Doctor

  • Find a doctor who will listen to and address your concerns
  • Give complete and accurate health information
  • Make a list of your questions and concerns before your appointment
  • Be honest and share your point of view with your doctor
  • Ask your doctor if you need him or her to explain something better
  • Talk to other health workers on your health care team, such as nurses, therapists, or pharmacists
  • Don't hesitate to talk with your doctor about sensitive subjects (like sex or birth control)
  • Talk about treatment changes with your doctor before making them

Treating Lupus

"I felt like I had suddenly lost my health. But I moved ahead, and understood I could have a meaningful and worthy life."

If you are diagnosed with lupus, there may be several treatment choices for you and your doctor to make. You may actually work with several doctors, or go to a new doctor who specializes in a particular health area. The kinds of doctors you might see include

  • A Rheumatologist, who specializes in joint, bone and muscle diseases
  • Clinical immunologist, who treats diseases of the immune system
  • Hematologist, who specializes in blood disorders
  • Dermatologist, who treats skin problems
  • Nephrologist, who treats kidney disease
  • Neurologist, who specializes in nervous system disorders

You may also work with other health care professionals, like nurses, social workers or mental health professionals.

Many options are available for drug treatment. Your own symptoms and needs will help your doctor decide which is best for you. Options include:

  • Aspirin and other drugs that reduce inflammation might be used for joint pain, fever, and swelling.
    They are called non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
  • Antimalarial drugs can help with fatigue, skin rashes, joint pain, and lung problems.
  • Corticosteroids reduce inflammation, and are available as a pill, skin cream or a shot.
  • Immunosuppressive drugs help slow down an immune system that is too active.
    Lupus patients with kidney or nervous system problems might use these drugs.

Alternative Medicine

For many reasons, people with lupus may try other kinds of treatment. Be sure to discuss any alternative treatment with your doctor before trying it. Treatments that have not yet been proven to help but that some people with lupus recommend include:

  • Acupuncture: an ancient Chinese practice using very thin needles inserted lightly into the skin to direct energy in the body
  • Mind-body therapy: treatment making use of the connection between mind and body (for example, biofeedback, hypnosis, yoga)
  • Herbal therapy: using natural plants with medicinal qualities
  • Massage therapy: Working with muscles and tissues for pain relief and relaxation
  • Special diets
  • Nutritional supplements (such as particular vitamins)
  • Chiropractic treatment: manipulation of the vertebrae and other joints

This information is provided by the Bureau of Environmental Health within the Department of Public Health.