What is an antinuclear antibody (ANA) test? 

If your doctor thinks you might have an autoimmune disease, they'll order an antinuclear antibody (ANA) test. This is a simple blood test. It can determine if there's a certain type of protein in your blood. 

The test itself only takes a few minutes. It should be painless. A technician at the doctor's office draws a vial of your blood. This blood sample goes to a lab, where experts can inspect it. A doctor can give you an ANA test at their office. If the only reason you're giving blood is for this test, you can eat and drink as you normally would before the test. Occasionally, there are positive results for people who are completely healthy. Certain medicine can produce positive results when you don't actually have a health condition. Bring a list of your current medications to the test.

What to expect from an ANA test

Your immune system naturally makes proteins called antibodies. These attack germs and bacteria. Sometimes your immune system wrongly fights your own body. When this happens, proteins called autoantibodies attack your cells and tissues. If you have these proteins in your blood, you may have an autoimmune disease. Autoimmune diseases include lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and scleroderma. 

A positive test is just the first step in diagnosing a condition. It can mean many things. Women over the age of 65 often have positive results but have no disease. It's likely your doctor will order more tests to confirm any findings.

Common conditions requiring an ANA test

Your doctor may want to treat the symptoms quickly if you have an autoimmune disorder. Symptoms of autoimmune disease include:

  • Hair loss
  • Feeling tired
  • Mild fever or rash 
  • Sensitivity to light 
  • Joint or muscle pain
  • Tingling in hands or feet

Be sure to talk with your doctor if you're experiencing any symptoms. 

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