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Jessica’s Coping with Lupus Corner

What do all these lab tests test for?

Jessica Rowshandel, M.S.W.
Jessica, Rowshandel, M.S.W.
Director of Social Services
S.L.E. Lupus Foundation

May was Lupus Awareness Month, and I wrote about self-empowerment through obtaining knowledge and information. We since hosted a webinar called Labs and Lupus: What do they mean?  which offered an opportunity for people with lupus to learn how to read their labs.

In this hour-long webinar, rheumatologist Beverly Johnson, MD, MS teaches us about lab tests run for people with lupus, like the ANA test and what it looks like on a slide when it is positive.  She also explains the other types of lab tests, like the erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR), .C-reactive protein (CRP), C3 and C4 complement levels, and anti-double stranded DNA (anti-dsDNA).  Do any of these sound familiar? After you watch the webinar, you will know more about each one and how they help diagnose and monitor lupus activity.

Some learnings I came away with:

  • An ANA test is used to help diagnose lupus.  This is a blood test that shows if your immune system is producing anti-nuclear antibodies.  Looking at the blood sample under a microscope, these anti-nuclear antibodies light up green if the test is positive, indicating that lupus is a possibility. The slide would look completely black if the person did not have anti-nuclear antibodies.
  • While the ANA is used to help diagnose lupus, it is not the best test to assess lupus activity and inflammation levels because it doesn’t give information about lupus activity or inflammation levels.  One of the ways to monitor lupus is to evaluate C3 and C4 complement levels.
  • Complements are the foot soldiers of the immune system and will battle invaders; in people with lupus, C3 and C4 complement levels can show up as below normal on lab test results.  This means that there is lupus activity and the lupus could possibly be attacking one of your organs, like your kidneys, or another part of your body like your bones.
  • Diet and stress might not have direct results on your lab test results, but a poor diet and high stress-levels can result in a flare, which will be reflected on the lab as active disease.
  • When you are reviewing your own lab test results, you can figure out if something is abnormal because the paperwork will indicate what the normal range is. That way, you can determine if something is below or above the normal range.  If your doctor hasn’t pointed out these abnormalities out to you, then you should ask about them. If your doctor has pointed these out to you, then you are equipped with the information to understand what the doctor is seeing.

My personal rule of thumb is to always request a copy of any labs or tests done and to review the results. I find this important because there have been times when I found something curious on my lab that needed more attention, but also to better understand and track your own health. Having a copy of your labs, and being able to review and understand them is empowering. You are not passively relying on someone else’s expertise. You can understand the results, too.

Visit our website for other simple suggestions, print brochures, catch up on our past webinars to learn more about lupus and share the information on your social media pages.

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Disclaimer: This website and its contents are designed for educational purposes only. Jessica Rowshandel, MSW is the S.L.E. Lupus Foundation’s Director of Social Services. She is not a physician. The advice provided is for educational and informational purposes and the Foundation does not recommend or endorse any particular treatment or therapy. The information provided here should not be used for the purposes of diagnosing or treating a medical or psychiatric illness. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional care. Lupus is a very individualized illness; consult a healthcare professional before making any decisions about your care. If you have or suspect you may have a health problem, you should consult your health care provider. Telephone calls, emails, and online content do not constitute counseling services in any way. The S.L.E. Lupus Foundation does not provide any medical or psychological services to its patients and users. For an accurate medical or mental health evaluation, participants should seek an evaluation from a qualified healthcare professional. S.L.E. Lupus Foundation employees, consultants, and agents shall not be liable for any claims or damages, and expressly disclaim all liability of any nature for any action or non-action taken as a result of the information generated by the S.L.E. Lupus Foundation programs and its website, as well as the S.L.E. Lupus Foundation Facebook and Twitter pages.