If you have a family history of arthritis and you've tested positive for anti-nuclear antibodies, you may be feeling anxious. While ANA tests are typically used to determine if people have an autoimmune disorder, it doesn't necessarily mean that you have arthritis. Read on to learn why an ANA test may not mean that you have arthritis, and how to know for sure if you have arthritis.
Anti-nuclear antibodies aren't necessarily a bad thing; they're actually a normal part of a healthy person's immune response. Under normal circumstances, anti-nuclear antibodies are produced to fight viruses and bacteria, and if they latch on to a healthy cell, they either die or deactivate instead of harming it. However, in some cases, anti-nuclear antibodies react incorrectly and attack your healthy cells. This attack can cause inflammation, tissue damage, and diseases like arthritis and lupus.
What A Positive ANA Test Means
If you've had an ANA blood test and it's come back positive, it means that the test has detected higher than normal levels of anti-nuclear antibodies in your body. However, a positive ANA test doesn't necessarily mean that you have arthritis or another autoimmune disorder.
Think of it this way: if someone has rheumatoid arthritis, their ANA level will be elevated. However, not all people with elevated ANA levels have arthritis or another autoimmune disorder.
A positive ANA test is a warning sign to your doctor that you need further attention to determine if you have an autoimmune disorder. However, in some cases, a positive ANA test may simply be a false positive, or your body may be in the midst of an immune response, perhaps because you've been sick lately or had an infection.
How To Know For Sure
The only way to know for sure if you have arthritis is to see a specialist. An arthritis specialist will give you a series of questions about pain, stiffness, and general discomfort in your body. Following that, they'll give you a physical examination, test your flexibility, and if necessary, run an x-ray to see if there's existing joint damage caused by rheumatoid arthritis.
If your ANA test comes back positive, it's not the end of the world. This result may not mean anything negative, but even if it does, it's a good thing that your doctors have caught it so they can begin treating your arthritis before it seriously harms your joints.