The antinuclear antibodies blood test does not require the patient to fast or do any other preparatory tasks before giving blood for the test. Patients may take their medications and dietary supplements as usual before the test. The test blood sample does not need to be taken at any particular time of the day.
Why It Is Used
The antinuclear antibodies blood test, also known as the ANA blood test, is ordered to test for autoimmune disorders, usually systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) or Sjogren syndrome. A doctor may consider these diagnoses when a patient complains of symptoms such as a persistent low grade fever, muscle pain, joint pain, numbness in hands and feet, skin sensitivity, and constant fatigue. These symptoms, however, do not always indicate an autoimmune disease – they are relatively general symptoms. A doctor is likely to be more concerned about an autoimmune disease if the symptoms have fluctuated up and down but, overall, become more severe over time. The ANA blood test is used to help diagnose an autoimmune disease, but it is not generally used to monitor the course of the disease. Therefore, the test is not normally ordered for individuals that have already been diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder.
How It Works
Antinuclear antibodies are produced when the body’s warning systems detect a foreign object in the body, and the antibodies start to attack that unrecognized item. Unfortunately, sometimes the body gets confused and does not recognize itself, and therefore starts to attack itself. These antibodies specifically target the nucleus of the cell, causing damage to the internal organs and other tissue. Depending on which organs are targeted, the body can shut down quite quickly due to the antibody attacks.
Systemic lupus erythematosus can affect any part of the body, but it most commonly attacks the liver and kidneys and often targets the heart, blood vessels, and nervous system. SLE is seen far more frequently in women than it is in men, with as many as 90 percent of all individuals with SLE being female. Women, especially those between the ages of 15 and 35, should be aware of the symptoms of SLE. Unfortunately, SLE is known for being initially misdiagnosed as something else because its symptoms are also seen in many other disorders. One of the major symptoms is extreme fatigue. Other symptoms include a persistent low-grade fever, muscle and joint pain, and skin sensitivity to light. One of the only distinguishing features of SLE is that individuals suffering from the disease will often develop a butterfly shaped rash over their nose and cheeks.
The presence of antinuclear antibodies in the body indicates some sort of autoimmune disorder such as SLE. The test is not conclusive, and so if the test comes out positive it is usually followed up with further testing. There is currently no cure for SLE, and the condition is typically managed with immunosuppressant medications. Early detection of SLE is truly important because the earlier an individual can receive medication after developing the disease, the less likely that a vital organ will be severely damaged in the process.