Antibodies are proteins made by your immune system. They help your body recognize and fight infections. Antibodies normally target harmful substances, such as bacteria and viruses, by activating the immune system to get rid of them.
Sometimes your healthy cells are mistakenly targeted by the antibodies. This is an immune response. Antinuclear antibodies are those that attack healthy proteins in the nucleus of your cells.
When the body receives signals to attack itself, it can give rise to autoimmune diseases such as lupus, scleroderma, mixed connective tissue disease, autoimmune hepatitis, and others. Symptoms vary by disease, but they may include rashes, swelling, arthritis, or fatigue.
It is normal to have some ANAs, but having too many is a sign of an active autoimmune disease. ANAs are found in your blood and can be determined with an ANA panel.
You may have an autoimmune disorder if the level is high. Conditions such as infections, cancer, and other medical problems can also result in a positive ANA test.
“If you have signs or symptoms of an autoimmune disorder, you will most likely be ordered an ANA panel by a doctor. An ANA test can show you with an auto Immune condition, but it can’t diagnose a specific disorder.”
If your test comes back positive, your doctor will need to do more testing to determine if you have an auto Immune Deficiency Syndrome.
No preparation is needed for the ANA panel. However, it’s important to tell your doctor about any medications or supplements that you’re taking, even over-the-counter ones. Some drugs, such as certain seizure and heart medications, can affect the accuracy of the test.
“The ANA panel is similar to other tests. A phlebotomist will tie an elastic band around your arm to make sure your veins swell with blood. It’s easier for them to find a vein.”
“They will insert a needle into a vein after cleaning the site. The test isn’t painful when the needle goes in, but you might feel some moderate pain when it does.”
The tube is attached to the needle. The phlebotomist will cover the puncture site after removing the needle from your vein.
A small scalpel called a lancet can be used to puncture the skin and a small tube called a pipette can be used to collect blood. It may be collected on a strip.
The lab will examine the blood.
The risks of doing an ANA panel are low. People with veins that are harder to access may experience more pain than others. Other risks can include:
A negative test means that there are less autoimmune diseases. You may still need other tests based on your symptoms. Some people with autoimmune diseases may get a negative test result for ANA but a positive result for other antibodies.
A positive ANA test means you have high levels of ANA in your blood. A positive ANA test is usually reported as a ratio and a pattern. Certain diseases have certain patterns.
The higher the titer, the more likely the result is a true positive result, meaning you have significant ANAs and an autoimmune disease.
The possibility of an autoimmune disorder is low for a ratio of 1:40 or 1:80. A high possibility of autoimmune disorder is indicated by a ratio of 1:640 or greater, but results will need to be analyzed by a doctor and additional tests are performed to determine the cause.
However, a positive result doesn’t always mean that you have an autoimmune disease. Up to 15 percent of completely healthy people have a positive ANA test. This is called a false-positive test result.
It is important to talk with a doctor about your symptoms and ANA results, as ANA titers can increase with age.
If your primary doctor ordered the test, they may recommend a referral to a rheumatologist to review any abnormal ANA results. They can help determine if your test results are related to a specific condition.
A positive ANA test alone can not diagnose a specific disease. There are some conditions that can be associated with a positive ANA test.
- systemic lupus erythematosus (lupus): an autoimmune disorder that can affect different parts of your body, including your heart, kidneys, joints, and skin
- autoimmune hepatitis: an autoimmune disorder that causes inflammation of your liver, along with rashes, joint pain, fatigue, poor appetite, and nausea
- rheumatoid arthritis: an autoimmune disorder that causes joint destruction, pain, swelling, and stiffness in your joints and affects your lungs, heart, eyes, and other organs
- Sjögren’s disease: an autoimmune disorder that affects your salivary and lacrimal glands, which produce saliva and tears
- scleroderma: an autoimmune disorder that primarily affects your skin and other connective tissues but can affect organs as well
- autoimmune thyroid disease: a range of conditions that affect your thyroid, including hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism
- polymyositis or dermatomyositis: autoimmune conditions that cause pain, weakness, and inflammation of your muscles, and can include a rash
The standards for a positive test can be different. Talk to your doctor about your levels and how they may be related to your symptoms. If your ANA test comes back positive, your doctor will need to run more tests to determine if the results are related to a specific condition.
The ANA test is especially helpful in diagnosing lupus. More than 95 percent of people with lupus will get a positive ANA test result. However, not everyone who gets a positive test result has lupus, and not everyone with lupus will have a positive test result. So the ANA test can’t be used as the only method of diagnosis.
If there is an underlying cause for the increased ANAs in your blood, speak with a doctor about additional tests.