Systemic lupus erythematosus laboratory tests

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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [1]; Associate Editor(s)-in-Chief: Mahshid Mir, M.D. [2]


Laboratory findings consistent with the diagnosis of systemic lupus erythematosus include autoantibody elevation of ANA, anti-dsDNA antibody, anti-SM antibody, and antiphospholipid antibodies, and a decrease in complement levels. Nonspecific laboratory findings include mild pancytopenia, elevated levels of creatinine and proteinuria due to renal failure (secondary to nephritis), elevated levels of ESR and CRP as acute phase reactants, decreased level of complements, and positive direct Coombs test.

Laboratory tests

Laboratory findings consistent with the diagnosis of systemic lupus erythematosus include autoantibody elevation of ANA, anti-dsDNA antibody, anti-SM antibody and antiphospholipid antibodies. However, decrease of complement levels is a common finding in SLE.[1][2][3][4][5][6][7]

Laboratory changes in SLE:

Exam type Lab exam Result Clinical correlation
Hematology Complete blood count
  • Non-specific
  • May be related to constitutional symptoms
Serum creatinine Elevated
Amylase Elevated
Urine Urinalysis
Urine sediment
Serology ANA Elevated
  • Positive in virtually all patients with SLE at some time in the course of their disease
Antiphospholipid antibodies
Complement levels
  • C3: Vary between varying between normal to slightly reduced
  • C4: Reduced
  • CH50: Reduced
Erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR) Elevated
  • Non-specific
C-reactive protein (CRP) Elevated
  • Non-specific
Urine protein-to-creatinine ratio Elevated
Anti-dsDNA antibody Elevated
  • Highly specific for SLE
  • As high as 70% of patients
Anti-SM antibodies Elevated
  • Highly specific for SLE
  • Positive in 30% of patients
  • Lack sensitivity
Anti-Ro/SSA antibodies Elevated
Anti-La/SSB antibodies Elevated
Anti-U1 RNP antibodies Elevated
Antiribosomal P protein antibodies Elevated
  • High specificity for SLE & low sensitivity for SLE
  • Lack specificity for involvement of a particular organ system or disease manifestation
Direct Coombs' test Positive

If the initial ANA test is negative, but the clinical suspicion of SLE is high, then additional antibody testing may still be appropriate. This is partly related to the differences in the sensitivity and specificity among the methods used to detect ANA.

Laboratory exams to distinguish SLE from other diseases

Test Interpretation
Anti-cyclic citrullinated peptide (CCP) antibodies
Rheumatoid factor (RF)
  • Less diagnostic since only 20 to 30 percent of people with SLE have a positive RF
  • Consider RA
Serological studies for infection
Creatine kinase (CK)

A more detailed look into auto-antibodies in SLE

Antibodies Prevalence Association with disease activity Pathogenesis involvement
ANA 80 - Cutaneous lupus erythematosus
dsDNA 70 -/+ Lupus nephritis
Anti-Sm antibodies 30 - Renal, neurologic, vasculitis and hematologic diseases
snRNP (U1 RNP) 30-40 - -
SSA/Ro 30 - Neonatal lupus
SSB/La 20 - Neonatal lupus
Antiribosomal P protein antibodies 20 - Neuro-psychiatric disease, liver disease
RF 20 - -


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  2. Willitzki A, Hiemann R, Peters V, Sack U, Schierack P, Rödiger S, Anderer U, Conrad K, Bogdanos DP, Reinhold D, Roggenbuck D (2012). "New platform technology for comprehensive serological diagnostics of autoimmune diseases". Clin. Dev. Immunol. 2012: 284740. doi:10.1155/2012/284740. PMC 3536031. PMID 23316252.
  3. Li J, Leng X, Li Z, Ye Z, Li C, Li X, Zhu P, Wang Z, Zheng Y, Li X, Zhang M, Tian XP, Li M, Zhao J, Zhang FC, Zhao Y, Zeng X (2014). "Chinese SLE treatment and research group registry: III. association of autoantibodies with clinical manifestations in Chinese patients with systemic lupus erythematosus". J Immunol Res. 2014: 809389. doi:10.1155/2014/809389. PMC 4017718. PMID 24864270.
  4. Yaniv G, Twig G, Shor DB, Furer A, Sherer Y, Mozes O, Komisar O, Slonimsky E, Klang E, Lotan E, Welt M, Marai I, Shina A, Amital H, Shoenfeld Y (2015). "A volcanic explosion of autoantibodies in systemic lupus erythematosus: a diversity of 180 different antibodies found in SLE patients". Autoimmun Rev. 14 (1): 75–9. doi:10.1016/j.autrev.2014.10.003. PMID 25449682.
  5. Miyakis S, Lockshin MD, Atsumi T, Branch DW, Brey RL, Cervera R, Derksen RH, DE Groot PG, Koike T, Meroni PL, Reber G, Shoenfeld Y, Tincani A, Vlachoyiannopoulos PG, Krilis SA (2006). "International consensus statement on an update of the classification criteria for definite antiphospholipid syndrome (APS)". J. Thromb. Haemost. 4 (2): 295–306. doi:10.1111/j.1538-7836.2006.01753.x. PMID 16420554.
  6. Truedsson L, Bengtsson AA, Sturfelt G (2007). "Complement deficiencies and systemic lupus erythematosus". Autoimmunity. 40 (8): 560–6. doi:10.1080/08916930701510673. PMID 18075790.
  7. Benito-Garcia E, Schur PH, Lahita R (2004). "Guidelines for immunologic laboratory testing in the rheumatic diseases: anti-Sm and anti-RNP antibody tests". Arthritis Rheum. 51 (6): 1030–44. doi:10.1002/art.20836. PMID 15593352.

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