What Kind of Doctor Treats Lupus?

A Rheumatologist Will Guide You Through Your Diagnosis and Treatment

What kind of doctor treats lupus? It's a common question for those who have been diagnosed with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) or another form of lupus.

Typically, lupus is treated by rheumatologists. Rheumatologists are internists or pediatricians (or both) that specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of arthritis and other diseases of the joints, muscles and bones, as well as certain autoimmune diseases, including lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.

They complete nine to 10 years of medical training before taking an examination to become board certified in rheumatology.

What Rheumatologists Do for Lupus

If your primary care doctor suspects you have lupus, you will be referred to a rheumatologist. The rheumatologist will run blood tests to check for indications of lupus.

The first blood test a rheumatologist will conduct to check for lupus is called an anti-nuclear antibody (ANA) test. This test looks for autoantibodies to nuclei in cells. Almost all people with lupus will have a positive ANA test.

However, a positive ANA result does not necessarily mean you have lupus. Some people who have a positive ANA test have scleroderma, rheumatoid arthritis or a different connective tissue disease. And up to 10 percent of people with no rheumatological disease will have a positive ANA.

After a positive ANA test, the rheumatologist will probably run more blood tests to look for other antibodies than can help pinpoint whether or not you have lupus or another condition.

The common follow-up to a positive ANA test is the ANA panel, which looks for these antibodies:

  • anti-double-stranded DNA (anti-dsDNA)
  • anti-Smith (anti-Sm)
  • anti-U1RNP
  • anti-Ro/SSA
  • anti-La/SSB

Some labs will also test for antinucleoprotein, anticentromere or antihistone.

Rheumatologists also use other tools - such as a medical history, a physical exam and skin and kidney biopsies - to make a lupus diagnosis.

Once lupus is diagnosed, your rheumatologist will work with you to come up with a treatment plan (including medications) that makes sense for you. Rheumatologists help patients prevent and treat lupus flares and reduce organ damage and other problems.

Your treatment may need to change many times over the course of your life, depending on the state of your disease and other factors. Your rheumatologist can help you navigate these changes.

Other Doctors and Health Professionals That Treat Lupus

A rheumatologist is not the only type of doctor you may need to see as part of your lupus treatment. According to the Lupus Foundation of America, other specialists may be necessary. This is because lupus can affect any part of the body. Depending on your case, you may need to see a:

Sources:

What kinds of doctors treat lupus? Lupus Foundation of America. July 12, 2013.

What Is Lupus? National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. November 2014.

Lupus Fast Facts. American College of Rheumatology. June 2015.

Lupus Blood Tests. The Johns Hopkins Lupus Center.

What is a Rheumatologist? The American College of Rheumatology. February 2008.

Systemic Lupus Erythematosus. JAMA Patient Page. The Journal of the American Medical Association. June 2005.

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