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Antinuclear Antibodies (ANA)

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Antibodies are Y-shaped proteins made by the immune system to help fight infections and invaders like bacteria and viruses. Unfortunately antinuclear antibodies often attack its own tissues, targeting the nucleus of each cell in the body.

The ANA test detects the presence of antinuclear antibodies in the blood. The presence of the antibodies indicates an autoimmune reaction. Sometimes healthy people will have positive ANA tests, specifically women older than age 65, but a positive test usually means something is wrong. A positive test usually indicates an autoimmune disease like rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma or lupus or an infection like mononucleosis. Sometimes blood-pressure medications and anti-seizure medications may cause the development of antinuclear antibodies.

Because the diseases mentioned above manifest themselves with similar symptoms, like join pain, fever and fatigue, the ANA test is necessary to eliminate some diseases. For example, low levels usually indicate rheumatoid arthritis, whereas high levels indicate lupus. Further testing will then be required. Follow-up blood testing will look for specific antinuclear antibodies that correspond to certain diseases.

People who are experiencing symptoms of arthritis, including acute pain and stiffness, should consider getting an ANA test. The results will help determine the cause and the appropriate treatment.