Kim Kardashian’s Lupus Scare: Is This Common?

A recent episode of the reality show Keeping Up With the Kardashians shed a not-so-glamorous insight into a reality even the wealthiest of celebrities cannot avoid.

Kim Kardashian West recently underwent medical tests after experiencing symptoms including, according to Kardashian West, numbness, swelling, fatigue, and nausea. The star underwent bloodwork and tested positive for lupus and rheumatoid arthritis (RA) antibodies. Subsequent screening found that she does not have either disease. Her doctor instead told her she likely has psoriatic arthritis, which commonly comes and goes.

Before discovering her results were a false positive, Kardashian West expressed fear and sadness at the possibility of a lupus or RA diagnosis. But Kardashian West’s experience may not be entirely uncommon.

Diagnosing lupus could be tricky because there is not a single definitive test. A combination of clinical tests and an assessment of symptoms collectively determine whether or not a patient likely has the disease. If lupus is suspected, patients will undergo a series of tests. One such procedure is the antinuclear antibody (ANA) test, which detects the presence of antibodies associated with lupus.

According to the Lupus Research Alliance, laboratory tests for lupus may include:

  • Complete blood count
  • Erythrocyte sedimentation rate
  • Urinalysis
  • Blood chemistries
  • Complement levels
  • Anticardiolipin antibody test

Patients with a positive ANA test and the presence of other signs of lupus may be diagnosed with the disease. It is estimated that anywhere between 95% and 98% of people with lupus will have a positive ANA test.

However, the presence of ANAs does not definitively point to lupus (or RA, as was suspected in Kardashian West’s case); according to the Johns Hopkins Lupus Center, anywhere between 5% and 10% of healthy people and people with other connective tissue diseases have ANAs. Specifically, about 20% of women could test positive for ANA and never manifest any symptoms of lupus.

Psoriatic Arthritis: What to Look For

Kardashian West was previously diagnosed with psoriasis. According to the National Psoriasis Foundation, “About 11 percent of those diagnosed with psoriasis have also been diagnosed with psoriatic arthritis. However, approximately 30 percent of people with psoriasis will eventually develop psoriatic arthritis.”

Other signs of psoriatic arthritis may include:

  • Pain and swelling in the joints, ligaments, and/or tendons
  • Stiffness
  • Swelling along the whole length of the fingers and toes (“sausage-like” fingers and toes)
  • Fatigue
  • Limited range of motion
  • Flares
  • Eye problems

Lupus is difficult to diagnose because symptoms can present differently in each patient; some patients may have very mild symptoms, while others will have severe, frequent flares. Some characteristics of lupus that may be similar to psoriatic arthritis include fatigue; joint pain, stiffness, and/or swelling; and dry eyes.