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Open Access Highly Accessed Review

Review for the generalist: The antinuclear antibody test in children - When to use it and what to do with a positive titer

Peter N Malleson1, Murray J Mackinnon2, Michaela Sailer-Hoeck3 and Charles H Spencer4*

Author Affiliations

1 Division of Rheumatology, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada

2 British Columbia Cancer Agency, Vancouver, Canada

3 Clinical Department of Pediatrics, Clinical Division of General Pediatrics, Medical University of Innsbruck, Innsbruck, Austria

4 Section of Rheumatology, Nationwide Children's Hospital, Ohio State University, Columbus, OH, USA

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Pediatric Rheumatology 2010, 8:27  doi:10.1186/1546-0096-8-27

Published: 20 October 2010

Abstract

The antinuclear antibody test (ANA) is a much overused test in pediatrics. The ANA does have a role in serologic testing but it should be a very limited one. It is often ordered as a screening test for rheumatic illnesses in a primary care setting. However, since it has low specificity and sensitivity for most rheumatic and musculoskeletal illnesses in children, it should not be ordered as a screening test for non-specific complaints such as musculoskeletal pain. It should only be used as a diagnostic test for children with probable Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) or Mixed Connective Tissue Disease, (MCTD) and other possible overlap-like illnesses. Such children should have developed definite signs and symptoms of a disease before the ANA is ordered. This review presents data supporting these conclusions and a review of the ANA literature in adults and children.

By limiting ANA testing, primary care providers can avoid needless venipuncture pain, unnecessary referrals, extra medical expenses, and most importantly, significant parental anxieties. It is best not to do the ANA test in most children but if it ordered and is positive in a low titer (<1:640), the results can be ignored if the child is otherwise well and does not have other features of a systemic illness.