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Diagnosing lupus

Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) can be difficult to diagnose, as it has similar symptoms to several other, far more common, conditions.

Diagnosis may also be difficult because the symptoms can vary greatly from person to person and may change over time.

For example, there may be periods where your symptoms aren't very noticeable, or times when they flare up and become more severe.

For a confident diagnosis of SLE to be made, you'll need to have several symptoms of lupus and a number of blood tests may be carried out.

Blood tests

Some of the blood tests that may be carried out include:

  • an erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) test – which can be used to determine whether there's any inflammation in your body
  • an anti-nuclear antibody test – which checks for a certain type of antibody in your blood, which most people with lupus have
  • an anti-DNA test – which also checks the level of a certain type of antibody in your blood; this level often increases during a flare-up
  • complement level test – which checks the level of a chemical in the blood that forms part of your immune system; this level often decreases during a flare-up

Other tests

Once you've been diagnosed with SLE, you'll normally need regular monitoring to see how the condition is affecting your body.

If you have SLE it's possible you may develop other conditions, such as kidney problems. Monitoring your condition allows your doctor to check for these complications and, if necessary, treat them as soon as possible.

You may need to have scans to check whether SLE is affecting your internal organs. These include:

Read more about the complications of lupus.