Autoimmune disorders affect an estimated 23 million Americans annually. Symptoms of an autoimmune disorder may begin in early adolescence or childhood. This article will briefly cover the basics of what to look for and how to treat these disorders.
Types of Autoimmune Disease in Kids
Autoimmune disease occurs when the body’s immune system overreacts or attacks its own organs and tissues. There are many different types of autoimmune disorders that can be systemic (affecting the entire body) or organ-specific.
Autoimmune disorders can present at any age, are usually more common in girls than in boys, and are often accompanied by additional autoimmune disorders. Risk factors include a family history of autoimmune disorders. Some of the most common include:
- Celiac disease
- Thyroid disorders
- Juvenile arthritis
Symptoms of Autoimmune Disease in Kids
Symptoms of autoimmune disease in kids can vary widely depending on the disorder and which systems of the body are affected. In general, however, symptoms may include:
- Vision problems
- Trouble sleeping
- Mood or behavioral changes
- Appetite changes
- Joint pain
- Gastrointestinal issues
- Swollen glands or lymph nodes
- Skin disorders/eczema
- Weight loss or gain
- Hair loss
Causes of Autoimmune Disease in Kids
While the exact cause of autoimmune disease is largely unknown, risk factors include:
- A genetic predisposition
- Environmental factors
- Gender (females are three times more likely than males to develop autoimmune diseases)
Treatment of Autoimmune Disease in Kids
Treatments will vary depending on the type of disease your child has, but may include:
- Medications – Possible treatment options include drugs that suppress the immune system (such as corticosteroids), anti-inflammatory drugs (like ibuprofen), or hormonal treatments (such as synthetic thyroid hormone or insulin).
- Lifestyle changes – Making simple changes to your child’s lifestyle can make a big difference in the management of their autoimmune disorder, especially in the case of hormone-related conditions such as diabetes or thyroid disease. Be sure that your child gets enough sleep, water, and physical activity.
- Dietary changes – Some autoimmune disorders that affect the digestive tract may require dietary changes such as the addition of more fiber or the elimination of certain foods such as gluten. Your child may work with a nutritionist to help.
- Surgery – In rare cases, surgery may actually be necessary to treat your child’s autoimmune condition and alleviate their symptoms. For example, in the case of an overactive thyroid, a thyroidectomy may be recommended if your child fails to respond to lifestyle changes and medication.
Autoimmune disease is usually considered to be lifelong, and your child will likely require some level of symptom monitoring or medication management well into adulthood.
If your doctor suspects an autoimmune disorder in your child, they will recommend testing such as bloodwork, ultrasounds, MRIs, and other tests to identify the cause of your child’s symptoms.
If you think your child may be experiencing the symptoms of an autoimmune disease, please give us a call today to schedule an office visit with knowledgeable pediatricians in Arvada.