The National Institutes of Health (NIH) states that 23.5 million Americans are affected by autoimmune diseases. Although most conditions are rare, the overall number of cases is increasing due to unknown reasons.
Diagnosing autoimmune diseases can take more than five years. Out of all 80 types of autoimmune diseases, there is no one test to diagnose them all. However, there are blood tests that can determine whether there is an inflammatory process in the body.
At Ulta Lab Tests, we offer lab testing services to help diagnose autoimmune disorders. You can order autoimmune tests online and get them done at one of our 2,500 approved patient service centers.
We will send your test results within a few business days so that you can share them with your physician during consultation.
What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Autoimmune Conditions?
Autoimmune diseases can be difficult to recognize and diagnose. Disorders that affect multiple organs can result in highly variable signs and symptoms that change in severity over time.
Individual diseases can also have unique symptoms. For instance, type 1 diabetes causes fatigue, extreme thirst, and weight loss, while IBD causes bloating, belly pain, and diarrhea.
Some of the more common symptoms of autoimmune diseases include the following:
- Low-grade fever
- A general feeling of being unwell (malaise)
- Achy muscles
- Joint pain
- Skin rashes
- Swelling and redness
- Numbness or tingling in the hands and feet
- Trouble concentrating
- Hair loss
Common Autoimmune Diseases
Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) occurs when the immune system attacks the healthy joint tissue. This chronic form of arthritis causes joint pain, soreness, stiffness, or loss of mobility.
Other common forms of arthritis, like osteoarthritis, affect people as they age. However, RA can start as early as 30 years old or sooner.
Type 1 Diabetes
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disorder where the immune system destroys the insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. This disease can occur at any age.
The hormone insulin, which helps regulate blood sugar levels, is produced in the pancreas. High blood sugar can damage the blood vessels and other organs, like the eyes, heart, kidneys, and nerves.
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic disease affecting the central nervous system (CNS). MS causes the inflammation and destruction of the myelin sheath, the protective coating that surrounds nerve cells.
Damage to the myelin interferes with the nerve impulse transmission between the brain and spinal cord to the rest of your body. This “demyelination” process can lead to several motor, sensory, and psychological symptoms.
Some symptoms include balance issues, weakness, numbness, and trouble walking. Multiple sclerosis comes in various forms that progress at different rates.
Normally, skin cells grow and shed when they are no longer needed. However, psoriasis can cause skin cells to multiply quickly. The extra cells build up to form inflamed, red patches on the skin with silver-white scales of plaque.
Psoriasis is most commonly found on the scalp, elbows, trunk, and knees. This skin condition tends to go through cycles, often flaring for a few weeks or months and subsiding for a while.
Inflammatory Bowel Disease
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) is a group of chronic disorders characterized by inflammation and swelling in the intestinal wall lining. The severity of these conditions vary for different individuals and change over time.
Each type of this disease affects a different part of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. For instance, Crohn’s disease can affect any part of the GI tract, from the mouth to the anus. Meanwhile, ulcerative colitis only inflames the colon (lining of the large intestine) and rectum.
Autoimmune vasculitis occurs when the immune system attacks and inflames blood vessels. The inflammation of blood vessels results in narrowing arteries and veins, which allows less blood to flow through them.
The blood vessels may also be thickened, enlarged (aneurysm), blocked (occlusion), weakened, or scarred. There are several types of vasculitis depending on the size of the vessel affected. They may or may not be associated with other underlying health problems.
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder of the digestive system. The body’s immune system reacts to gluten, a protein found in wheat, and proteins in rye or barley.
Once gluten is in the small intestine, the immune system causes inflammation. It also damages the small intestine lining and villi (the small tissue folds that line the intestinal wall).
When villi are destroyed, the body is much less capable of absorbing vitamins, minerals, nutrients, and fluids. Patients with Celiac disease may develop malabsorption or malnutrition without proper treatment.
Addison’s disease affects the body’s adrenal glands. These glands are responsible for producing the adrenal hormones, cortisol and aldosterone, and androgen hormones.
Not having enough cortisol can impact how the body uses and stores sugar (glucose) and carbohydrates. Meanwhile, aldosterone deficiency will result in excess potassium in the bloodstream and sodium loss.
Symptoms of Addison’s disease usually include fatigue, weight loss, low blood sugar, and weakness.
Graves’ disease is the most common cause of hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid). This disease attacks the neck’s thyroid gland, which causes the overproduction of its hormones.
Thyroid hormones control the body’s metabolism or energy usage. Too many of these hormones cause symptoms, including a fast heartbeat, heat intolerance, nervousness, and weight loss.
Another potential symptom of Graves’ disease is bulging eyes, also called exophthalmos. This symptom can occur as a part of Graves’ ophthalmopathy.
Hashimoto thyroiditis is the most common cause of underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) and thyroid gland inflammation (thyroiditis). The immune system attacks the thyroid gland by producing thyroid antibodies.
Damage to the gland affects thyroid hormone production. It leads to symptoms of hypothyroidism, including enlarged or swollen thyroid (goiter), fatigue, hair loss, weight gain, and sensitivity to cold.
Lab Tests for Autoimmune Diseases
Antinuclear Antibodies (ANA)
An Antinuclear antibodies test looks for antinuclear antibodies in your blood. These antibodies are called “antinuclear” because they target the center (nucleus) of cells.
While healthy antibodies fight bacteria and viruses, antinuclear antibodies attack healthy cells and tissues. An ANA test detects the presence of an autoimmune disorder.
C-Reactive Protein (CRP)
This test measures the level of CRP, a protein produced by the liver and released into the bloodstream to respond to inflammation.
Changes in CRP levels can show active inflammation caused by autoimmune disorders, chronic conditions, and bacterial or fungal infections.
Erythrocyte Sedimentation Rate (ESR)
The ESR test measures how quickly red blood cells (erythrocytes) settle at the bottom of a test tube containing the blood sample. Normally, red blood cells collect relatively slowly.
A faster-than-normal rate can indicate inflammation in the body, including autoimmune diseases, infections, chronic kidney diseases, or cancer.
Rheumatoid Factor (RF)
The RF test detects the presence of the rheumatoid factor. It is a protein produced by the immune system that can mistakenly attack healthy joints, cells, or glands.
This test is typically used to diagnose rheumatoid arthritis. However, it can also detect other diseases, like lupus, juvenile arthritis, tuberculosis, and leukemia.
Frequently Asked Questions About Autoimmune Lab Testing
What is the first test performed for a patient suspected of having an autoimmune disease?
An antinuclear antibody (ANA) test is usually performed first when evaluating a patient for autoimmune disease. The immunofluorescence assay (IFA) screens for approximately 150 autoantibodies that can occur in several autoimmune diseases.
IFA is recommended by the American College of Rheumatology (ACR) as the gold standard method for ANA testing.
Can you screen and test for specific antibodies using one patient specimen?
Yes, the test starts with an ANA screen using IFA technology. The first tier includes 5 antibodies. If all of them are negative, testing proceeds to the second tier.
The second tier of testing includes 4 more antibodies. If they are negative, testing proceeds to the final tier, which includes 2 more antibodies.
If the ANA IFA produces a positive result, but all 11 specific antibodies are negative, an autoimmune disease may still be present. This disease may be associated with an antibody not tested for.
How predictive are the specific antibodies in various autoimmune diseases?
The presence of a specific antibody highly suggests an autoimmune disease.
The results must be interpreted in the context of the antibody prevalence and clinical information.
Benefits of Autoimmune Lab Testing With Ulta Lab Tests
At Ulta Lab Tests, we offer tests that are highly accurate and reliable, so you can make informed decisions about your health.
- Secure and Confidential Results
- No Insurance or Referral Needed
- Affordable Pricing Including Doctor’s Order
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Order your autoimmune lab tests today, and we will send your test result to you confidentially online. Take control of your health today with Ulta Lab Tests.