Diagnosing autoimmune diseases isn’t simple. Unlike other illnesses, they’re not easily recognized. Many of the symptoms of autoimmune diseases mock other conditions, which makes it difficult to understand what’s going with a patient.
In that case, blood tests and other types of evaluations on the immune system are required. With that in mind, if you’re curious to learn more about how to test for autoimmune diseases, continue reading the content below.
What Is an Autoimmune Disease?
Autoimmune diseases are an immune system response against the healthy cells or tissue of the body. Autoantibodies are chemicals released by the body’s own defense systems, which attack proteins made internally.
These antibodies can damage tissues of all kinds, including muscles, joints, nerves, blood vessels and skin. Sometimes they’re induced by environmental factors such as hormones, medications, infections, stress factors and genetics.
One example of an autoimmune disease is arthritis. It can affect any part of the joints or surrounding tissues. It’s caused by another autoimmune disorder called rheumatoid arthritis (RA). RA occurs when your body’s defense system attacks its own cells around the joints.
The specific cause for this process is not known. Arthritis is a disease that often begins between the ages of 40 to 60 years old.
People with autoimmune diseases are at risk for other infections, allergies, and chronic health issues. That’s because multiple systems of the body are attacked at once. These conditions make it difficult to live a full life.
Most individuals don’t have any symptoms when they are diagnosed. However, some may experience joint pain, muscle aches, stomach problems, or swollen glands.
Autoimmune disorders are difficult to diagnose because it’s rare to have only one of these conditions. A doctor can diagnose a patient by ruling out other diseases using blood tests and medical exams.
An autoimmune disease can be treated if the exact cause is identified through a series of tests. Treatments include medications, lifestyle changes, and in some cases, surgery.
For the most part, treatment plans for autoimmune diseases vary depending on the area of the body that’s being attacked.
How to Test for Autoimmune Diseases
Autoimmune disease testing is a complex process, and there are many types of tests that are performed. The first step to figuring out if someone has an autoimmune disease is the doctor performing an examination on the body. They’ll check for skin rashes, swelling of organs and other signs.
The next step in diagnosis may involve blood tests like ELISA (enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay) or ELFA (enzyme-linked fluorescent assay). Both examinations check for antibodies.
ELISA uses two types of antibodies, one attached to a plate and the other in the blood sample. The antibody on the plate binds to any antibodies in your blood if they are present. This will only happen if the antibodies in your blood are specific to the plate antibody.
If there is an antibody match between both of these types, then a colored spot will show up on the plate where they met. This is because ELISA uses enzymes that react with a substrate to produce a color change.
ELFA tests use a fluorescent molecule attached to a known antibody against antigens of the autoimmune disease. The antibodies in your blood sample will bind to these antigens attached to a plate.
If they are present, some of them will make it inside the plate where the fluorescent molecule is. The machine measures how much fluorescence there is at each spot on the plate and allows some spots to show up brighter than others.
Another method of testing patients for autoimmune diseases is a urine test. A urine exam checks for interferon-alpha. Interferon-alpha is a protein released by the body in response to viruses and other foreign substances.
They can be detected in the blood or lymph nodes when people are not infected. On the other hand, overactive immune systems can make them appear in the urine. If someone is positive for interferon-alpha, then they likely have an autoimmune disease.
A pathology specialist can also do a blood test that uses polymerase chain reaction to detect antinuclear antibodies(ANA). These antibodies are present when you have an autoimmune disease.
Common Symptoms Associated With Autoimmune Disease
Autoimmune disorders are a group of diseases where the immune system attacks healthy cells in your body. Autoimmune disorders come in various conditions. However, symptoms vary depending on the type of autoimmune disorder you have.
Common symptoms associated with autoimmune diseases include muscle weakness, fatigue, abdominal cramping, increased heart rate, and increased blood pressure.
In some extremely severe cases, symptoms of autoimmune diseases are life-threatening. But in most cases, the severity of symptoms differs from person to person. They may not affect people with the same autoimmune disorder in the same manner.
Diagnosing Autoimmune Diseases
As you can see, it takes a lot to diagnose autoimmune diseases. But thankfully, technology has made detecting autoimmune illnesses easier.
That’s good news because some autoimmune diseases are fatal. So, the quicker a diagnosis is made, the greater the chance of survival. Not only that, but early diagnosis allows doctors to get ahead of the disease and put together an effective treatment plan. That way, patients can live a better, more fulfilling life.
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