Stress isn’t usually the direct cause of a positive ANA test, but it can influence the immune system, potentially exacerbating symptoms in those with autoimmune disorders.

If you have symptoms like fatigue, joint pain, or unexplained inflammation, your doctor might order an antinuclear antibody (ANA) test to check for autoimmune disorders. This test detects ANAs in the blood, potentially indicating conditions like lupus or scleroderma.

About one-fifth of the population tests positive for ANAs, but only a small fraction have symptoms or are diagnosed with autoimmune diseases. This raises questions about why some people have these antibodies without showing signs of illness. Could stress play a role?

While stress isn’t typically the direct cause of a positive ANA result, it can exacerbate existing conditions or trigger symptoms in those with autoimmune disorders. This might lead to a positive ANA test detected during stressful periods.

Research indicates that people with a positive ANA test display unique traits within their immune systems, including increased inflammation, heightened antibody production, and the activation of specific immune-related genes.

While only a small subset of those with a positive ANA test receive a confirmed autoimmune disorder diagnosis, the likelihood of an autoimmune disease rises with higher ANA levels, especially when accompanied by specific symptoms and other lab findings.

In one 2016 study, participants who didn’t have autoimmune conditions but who tested positive for ANA showed immune irregularities resembling those in people with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). However, they lacked certain crucial elevated markers typically linked to the progression of the disease.

These findings suggest that a positive ANA test may hint at differences in immune regulation, which could possibly affect the risk of other conditions, even in the absence of an autoimmune disease.

Stress alone typically doesn’t cause a positive ANA result. However, stress may exacerbate existing conditions or trigger symptoms in individuals with autoimmune disorders, possibly leading to an ANA-positive result during periods of heightened stress.

While emotional stress doesn’t directly cause autoimmune diseases, it can influence immune responses, potentially contributing to the development or worsening of autoimmune conditions.

Research suggests that stress affects the immune system by altering hormone levels like catecholamines and glucocorticoids. This immune disruption, observed in diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, might intensify symptoms or delay recovery.

An extensive analysis of over 100,000 individuals diagnosed with stress-related disorders in Sweden revealed a notable increase in the risk of developing autoimmune diseases compared to both the general population and the subjects’ own siblings.

Certain factors can potentially lead to a false positive result on an ANA test. These include:

  • advanced age, typically over 65
  • some infectious diseases, such as those caused by Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), parvovirus, cytomegalovirus (CMV), or hepatitis C
  • use of specific medications (antiseizure medications, blood pressure drugs, and antibiotics)
  • cancer (rarely)

One study found that a positive ANA test was linked not only to autoimmune diseases like lupus but also to an increased risk of conditions such as Raynaud’s syndrome and respiratory issues in those without autoimmune diseases.

However, the study also found unexpected results. For example, ANA-positive individuals showed a lower risk of conditions like hepatitis C, mood disorders, tobacco and substance use disorders, convulsions, and some diabetes and heart-related issues.

These findings indicate that ANA-positivity may affect various health conditions beyond autoimmune diseases, with some unexpected protective associations observed in certain disorders.

A positive ANA test doesn’t automatically mean an autoimmune disease diagnosis. If you receive a positive result, your doctor will likely conduct further tests, consider your symptoms and medical history, and possibly refer you to a specialist, like a rheumatologist.

Further evaluations can help determine whether an autoimmune condition is present or there’s another reason for the positive ANA. Regular follow-ups with a healthcare professional are recommended for proper monitoring and management, even if no autoimmune disease is initially detected.

Multiple factors can contribute to ANA positivity, ranging from autoimmune diseases like lupus or Hashimoto thyroiditis to viral infections, specific medications, age-related changes, and various health conditions.

Although stress itself may not directly trigger a positive ANA result, it has the potential to impact immune function, which could influence ANA levels.

If you’re concerned about stress affecting your ANA test, consulting a healthcare professional can help alleviate your worries and offer guidance on effective stress management techniques.