The antinuclear antibody test (ANA) is used to screen for the presence of autoantibodies that are directed toward components in the nucleus of the cell. Clinicians use the ANA test to assess the likelihood that a given patient has an SARD. The results of the ANA test alone are not diagnostic for the SARD. The patient must also have clinical evidence of the disease as well. Because the early clinical presentation for many of the SARDs are nonspecific, the results of the ANA test and subsequent follow-up testing are key pieces to making the correct diagnosis.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is the most prevalent disease in this group; however, the ANA assay is not the primary laboratory test for RA. Instead, the test for RA looks for the presence of rheumatoid factor (RF) or cyclic citrullinated peptide antibodies (anti-CCP).
For the other diseases in the SARD group, especially SLE and SSc, the results of the ANA test can be useful in determining a correct diagnosis.
The utility of the ANA test is to detect the antibodies early in the disease process. The ANA results, in conjunction with clinical presentation, give the clinician solid evidence to intervene with an appropriate treatment. Studies have shown that once treatment is started, the formation of new antibodies slows or even halts.
Currently there are no cures for the SARDs. Treatments primarily focus on keeping the patient comfortable and the immune response in check. Treatments can vary from non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to immuno-suppressive drugs to stem cell transplants. Individual treatment is often dependent on the severity of the disease and the response to the selected drug regimen.