What is an ANA (Antinuclear Antibody) Test?
An ANA test is a blood test that looks for antinuclear antibodies in your blood. Antibodies are proteins that your immune system makes to fight foreign substances, such as viruses and bacteria. But an antinuclear antibody attacks your own healthy cells instead. It's called "antinuclear" because it targets the nucleus (center) of the cells.
It's normal to have a few antinuclear antibodies in your blood. But a large number may be a sign of an autoimmune disorder. If you have an autoimmune disorder, your immune system attacks the cells of your organs and tissues by mistake. These disorders can cause serious health problems.
Other names: antinuclear antibody panel, fluorescent antinuclear antibody, FANA, ANA, ANA reflexive panel
What is it used for?
An ANA test is used to help diagnose autoimmune disorders, such as:
- Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), the most common type of lupus. Lupus is a chronic (long-lasting) disease that affects many parts of the body, including the joints, skin, heart, lungs, blood vessels, kidneys, and brain.
- Rheumatoid arthritis, a condition that mostly affects joints, causing pain and swelling often in the wrists, hands, and feet.
- Scleroderma, a rare disease that may affect the skin, blood vessels, and organs.
- Sjögren's syndrome, a rare disease that affects the glands that make tears and saliva (spit) and other parts of the body.
- Addison Disease, which affects your adrenal glands, causing fatigue and weakness.
- Autoimmune hepatitis, which causes swelling in your liver.
Why do I need an ANA test?
Your health care provider may order an ANA test if you have symptoms of an autoimmune disorder. The symptoms depend on the part of the body that's affected. They may include:
What happens during an ANA test?
A health care professional will take a blood sample from a vein in your arm, using a small needle. After the needle is inserted, a small amount of blood will be collected into a test tube or vial. You may feel a little sting when the needle goes in or out. This usually takes less than five minutes.
Will I need to do anything to prepare for the test?
You don't need any special preparations for an ANA test.
Are there any risks to the test?
There is very little risk to having a blood test. You may have slight pain or bruising at the spot where the needle was put in, but most symptoms go away quickly.
What do the results mean?
Results from an ANA test alone cannot diagnose a specific disease. Your provider will use your ANA test results along with other tests and information about your health to make a diagnosis.
A negative result on an ANA test means that antinuclear antibodies were not found in your blood, and you're less likely to have an autoimmune disorder. But a negative ANA test doesn't completely rule out the possibility that you could have an autoimmune disorder.
A positive result on an ANA test means that antinuclear antibodies were found in your blood. A positive result may be a sign of:
- Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE)
- A different type of autoimmune disease
- A viral infection (antinuclear antibodies from a virus are usually temporary)
- Another health condition that can cause antinuclear antibodies, such as cancer.
If your ANA test results are positive, your provider will likely order more tests to make a diagnosis.
Having antinuclear antibodies in your blood doesn't always mean you have a disease. Some healthy people have antinuclear antibodies in their blood, and levels tend to increase with age. As many as one-third of healthy adults over the age of 65 may have a positive ANA test result. Also, certain medicines can cause antinuclear antibodies.
If you have questions about your results, talk with your provider.
Learn more about laboratory tests, reference ranges, and understanding results.
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