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This detailed article discusses the diagnosing process, lupus symptoms, and life expectancy. Find about Lupus diagnosis in this guide.

Jan 19, 2024 By Madison Evans

Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), an autoimmune illness, has mystified doctors for decades. Its symptoms sometimes overlap with other ailments, like several autoimmune conditions. This has led many patients and doctors to ask, "How is lupus diagnosed?"

What is Lupus?

Understanding lupus is crucial before diagnosing it. Lupus is an autoimmune illness in which the immune system assaults its tissues. It can affect any bodily part, although joints, skin, kidneys, blood cells, brain, heart, and lungs are common.

Lupus Symptoms: Complexity

Lupus' many symptoms prompt the inquiry "How is lupus diagnosed?" Fatigue, joint discomfort, and rashes might progress to kidney malfunction, neurological issues, and heart inflammation.

Malar rash, or 'butterfly rash,' is a common lupus symptom in which crimson covers the cheeks and nose. However, not all lupus patients have this symptom, making diagnosis difficult.

General Symptoms

Fatigue: A pervasive tiredness, often not relieved by rest, is one of the most common complaints among lupus patients. This fatigue can be debilitating, hampering daily activities.

Fever: Low-grade fever without any evident cause can often be an early sign of lupus, even before other symptoms manifest.

Skin Manifestations

Malar Rash: Dubbed the 'butterfly rash', this distinct rash spans the cheeks and nose. It's a hallmark lupus symptom, although not everyone experiences it.

Discoid Rash: This rash is characterized by red, scaly patches on the skin, which can lead to scarring.

Photosensitivity: Many lupus patients react poorly to sunshine, causing rashes or flare-ups.

Muscle problems

Lupus patients often experience arthralgia. Swelling, redness, and warmth may occur in the joints. Myositis causes muscle soreness.

Organ Involvement

Kidney inflammation: Lupus nephritis causes protein in urine, swollen ankles, and high blood pressure. Untreated, it might cause renal failure.

Lung Issues: Lupus can inflame the lung lining, causing pleurisy and sharp chest pains, especially during deep breaths.

Heart Complications: Pericarditis, or inflammation of the lining outside the heart, can manifest in lupus patients. It may result in chest pain and other complications.

Neurological Issues

Lupus patients often experience severe headaches that resemble migraines.

Cognitive Issues: Lupus can cause memory loss, disorientation, and concentration issues. Neurological involvement can cause seizures in lupus patients, however, they are rare.

Blood and Immune System Anemia: Reduced red blood cells can cause fatigue, difficulty breathing, and dizziness.

Blood Clotting: Lupus can raise the risk of blood clotting, which can cause deep vein thrombosis or strokes.

White Blood Cell and Platelet Count: Lupus may lower white blood and platelet counts, compromising infection prevention and management of bleeding.

Miscellaneous Symptoms

Mouth Ulcers: Painful sores can appear inside the mouth, often on the roof or inner cheeks.

Hair Loss: Diffuse thinning or loss of hair can sometimes occur, either due to the disease itself or as a side effect of certain medications.

Raynaud’s Phenomenon: This condition is where fingers and toes turn blue or white when subjected to cold, due to restricted blood flow.

How is Lupus Diagnosed: The Procedure

Given the broad range of lupus symptoms, clinicians employ a combination of methods to arrive at a definitive diagnosis.

Medical History: The First Line of Inquiry

Understanding Symptoms: It's of paramount importance that you maintain transparent communication with your doctor regarding the nature and frequency of your symptoms. Given the wide array of lupus symptoms, this information can often be the first clue to the disease.

Documentation: Consistency in recording symptoms is essential. It's beneficial to maintain a dedicated health journal. This not only helps in keeping track of when symptoms occur but also in determining any triggers or patterns that could provide valuable insights. For instance, note down flare-ups, their duration, severity, and potential triggers, such as sun exposure or stress.

Family History: Tracing Genetic Links

Important inherited Patterns: Lupus and other autoimmune illnesses are typically inherited. Family history of lupus or other autoimmune illnesses may raise your risk of developing it.

Open Conversations: Discuss with family members to understand the health history better. Knowing if grandparents, aunts, uncles, or cousins had lupus or similar autoimmune disorders can be vital information for your physician.

Complete Physical Exam: The Visual Assessment

A physical examination is not merely a routine process. During this exam, doctors meticulously search for visual indicators pointing toward lupus.

Rashes: The malar or butterfly rash, which spans across the cheeks and nose, is a well-known symptom of lupus. Additionally, discoid rashes or other skin abnormalities could be telling signs.

Joint Swelling: Joint pain and swelling are common in lupus. Doctors will examine your joints for inflammation, pain, or deformities.

Blood and Urine Tests

Antinuclear Antibody (ANA) Test: This is often the starting point for laboratory tests concerning lupus. A positive ANA test indicates the presence of antibodies typically found in higher quantities in lupus patients. However, it's crucial to note that a positive ANA alone isn't a definitive lupus diagnosis. Many people without lupus can also test positive.

Further Testing: If ANA is positive, doctors continue testing. They order more tests for SLE antibodies to better understand the illness.

Skin or Kidney Biopsy: Confirming the Diagnosis

What is a Biopsy?

A biopsy is a minor surgical procedure where a small tissue sample is extracted from the body. This sample offers a microscopic view of the cells and structures, revealing abnormalities or changes characteristic of certain diseases.

Why Skin or Kidney?

Both the skin and kidneys are commonly affected by lupus. Analyzing skin tissue can help confirm skin-related lupus symptoms. In contrast, kidney tissue examination can determine the type and extent of renal involvement, a significant aspect of lupus.

The Importance of Early Diagnosis

One might wonder why there's a focus on understanding "How is lupus diagnosed?" The reason lies in lupus life expectancy. Lupus used to have a poor prognosis. Medical advances and early diagnosis have extended lupus life expectancy.

Lupus patients can better manage their symptoms and avoid more serious complications by detecting and treating them early. According to studies, early diagnosis has improved lupus survival rates over the decades.


The intricate web of lupus symptoms often leads to confusion and delayed diagnosis. Addressing the critical question of "How is lupus diagnosed?" is not just about understanding the disease but also about improving patient outcomes.

An informed patient, aware of lupus symptoms and the importance of early diagnosis, can actively collaborate with healthcare professionals. Together, they can chart a course that manages the disease efficiently, optimizing lupus life expectancy and ensuring a better quality of life.

If you or someone you know experiences symptoms suggestive of lupus, seeking medical advice promptly is crucial. Only through a combination of medical history, physical examinations, and various tests can a definitive answer to "How is lupus diagnosed?" be provided. With knowledge and timely intervention, the battle against lupus becomes more winnable.

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