Why Diagnosing Lupus Can Be Challenging

An estimated 1.5 million people in the United States have lupus, an unpredictable, often mysterious autoimmune disease. The journey to an official diagnosis is fraught with frustration, delays, and confusion. Unlike other conditions, no single test can diagnose lupus on its own. Gaining an understanding of why diagnosing lupus is often challenging is a good place to start if you’re on a journey for answers.

Serving the Orange County area of California, board-certified rheumatologists Dr. Nathaniel Neal and Dr. Rebekah Neal-Kraal are dedicated to helping patients manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life. If you think lupus is a possibility, it’s wise to educate yourself and partner with an experienced rheumatologist.

Here’s why it often takes time for patients to receive a lupus diagnosis.

The great mimicker

Lupus is a disease known for having symptoms that mimic and overlap with several other conditions. This adds to the challenge of pinpointing lupus as the cause of your health concerns. Before diagnosing you with lupus, your provider must rule out other diseases and conduct multiple tests to get an accurate picture.

Symptoms come and go

Lupus symptoms tend to wax and wane. Patients have symptom-free periods followed by a pronounced flare-up. Many people living with lupus learn the signs and signals that a flare is on the way. For instance, the lupus rash is a common signal of a mild flare, while muscle and joint pain are common during a moderate flare.

Stress, sunlight, injury, infection, and certain medications can trigger a flare. Lifestyle changes, such as exercising regularly and limiting stress, can go a long way in keeping flares under control. It’s important for patients to know that while flares are an unfortunate part of life for lupus patients, treatment and lifestyle changes can help you control them and improve your quality of life.

An unpredictable condition

The unpredictable nature of lupus is perhaps one of the most difficult aspects of living with the condition. Patients often experience flare-ups that appear out of nowhere and leave you guessing how long they’ll last. This makes it difficult to plan and go about daily life.

Although there’s no way for you or your doctor to predict the length or severity of your flares, working together to identify and minimize your triggers helps a lot.

Vague symptoms can complicate a diagnosis

As a rule, patients with lupus first visit their provider with symptoms that are hard to pin down to any one condition. The most common include fatigue, hair loss, joint pain, and problems concentrating. These symptoms are common in rheumatoid arthritis, thyroid disorders, fibromyalgia, and multiple sclerosis also. When you visit your provider with nonspecific symptoms, it isn’t immediately apparent that you’re suffering from lupus.

Signs vary from person to person

Lupus can affect different organs in your body, leading to a wide variety of symptoms that vary from one person to another. This makes it challenging for providers to come to a quick conclusion of what’s ailing you. Gathering thorough information, making the right connections, using the right criteria, and ordering the appropriate tests all help put the pieces of the puzzle together.

Symptoms often change

Early in the course of lupus, you may experience symptoms that differ completely from what your symptoms are a year later. Because symptoms can change suddenly, making a diagnosis of lupus is more difficult. Keeping track of your symptoms can help point your provider in the right direction.

If you think you have lupus, make an appointment to see the rheumatology team at Valerius Medical Group & Research Center. Using the latest research and treatments, you can live well with lupus. Call our Los Alamitos practice to make an appointment or request one online.


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