The body has an internal security system more commonly known as the immune system. It is responsible for fighting off illnesses and infection, and works towards keeping the body healthy. The immune system's foot soldiers are a protein known as antibodies. These antibodies are produced by the white blood cells and are present in the blood stream on the lookout for bacteria, viruses and toxins.
However, at times these protective antibodies end up attacking the healthy red blood cells and tissues in the body. These antibodies are also referred to as autoantibodies. These result in serious illnesses and a compromised immune system. Antinuclear antibodies (ANA) are a subset of these autoantibodies. These antibodies are able to target the nucleus of a cell; this is the structure that holds vital genetic information more commonly known as DNA.
An antinuclear antibodies test can be undertaken to determine the presence of these antibodies in the bloodstream. They also test the levels and patterns of antibodies present in the body. These tests are crucial in the diagnosis of conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and lupus.
The procedure begins with the drawing of a blood sample from the patient. This sample is sent to the lab for testing. Here, the serum from the blood is extracted and placed on a microscopic slide, adding it to a set if commercially prepared cells. If the serum attaches itself to the cells, it indicates a presence of antibodies.
After this another antibody is added to the same set. The antibody is marked with a fluorescent dye. When the serum binds itself to the antibodies, it attaches itself to the dye too. Due to this, when observed under an ultra violet microscope, the antibodies pop up as fluorescent cells. The fluorescent cells indicate a positive antinuclear antibodies test result. The lack of the same indicates a negative antinuclear antibodies test result.
Using the fluorescent markers one can study the levels and patterns of antinuclear antibodies in the blood. The patterns that are formed by the stained ANAs are distinguished as homogeneous, nucleolar antinuclear antibodies, speckled antinuclear antibodies and peripheral antinuclear antibodies. These patterns usually provide doctors with useful clues for a successful diagnosis as certain illnesses are associated closer with certain patterns than others.
These tests are complex but usually help provide better insight into the patient's condition, allowing doctors to chart an effective course of treatment.