Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease that requires the long-term use of medications to treat the symptoms. It is estimated that approximately 25,000 children and teens are currently living with lupus in the United States.
What is Pediatric Lupus?
Pediatric lupus, or childhood-onset systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE),is a serious inflammatory disease that causes damage to the organs, skin, and joints. The kidneys, heart, lungs, and brain are the organs that are most commonly affected.
Causes of Pediatric Lupus
While there is no definitive cause of pediatric lupus, there are a few indicators that make a diagnosis more likely. It is suspected that environmental triggers may also play a role in the onset of lupus in individuals with a genetic predisposition to the disease.
Risk factors include gender (estrogen seems to play a role in the development of lupus), age, and race. Lupus affects African Americans, Asian Americans, Latinos, and American Indians more frequently than Caucasian Americans. Most children with pediatric-onset lupus are diagnosed during their teen years, which may be linked to the onset of puberty. In some cases, children may be born with neonatal lupus.
Symptoms of Pediatric Lupus
The severity of lupus symptoms can range from mild to severe, with patients typically experiencing flare-ups and remissions. Signs of pediatric lupus may include:
- Sores of the mouth and nose
- Rash (especially a “butterfly rash” on the cheeks)
- Arthritis/joint pain
- Unexplained weight loss
- Kidney damage
- Sensitivity to sunlight
- Hair loss
- Low white blood cell count
- Low red blood cell count
- Loss of appetite
- Swollen lymph nodes
A diagnosis of pediatric lupus is usually confirmed by several different types of testing.
Diagnosis of Pediatric Lupus
Childhood lupus often goes undetected or misdiagnosed, making appropriate treatment more difficult. This is because lupus is uncommon in children and often presents with clinical signs that are similar to many other diseases.
Testing may include bloodwork to detect antibodies, imaging to evaluate the organs for inflammation, and urine testing to check for related kidney damage. Doctors will also conduct a physical exam while considering the symptoms, clinical history, and family history of the patient in question.
Treatment of Pediatric Lupus
The good news is that the five-year survival rate of children diagnosed with pediatric-onset SLE is nearly 100%. This means that most kids will go on to live a full life even with a lupus diagnosis.
While there is no cure for lupus, symptoms can be controlled with medications.
Treatment options for pediatric lupus include:
- Corticosteroids to reduce inflammation
- Hydroxychloroquine to control flare-ups
- Immunosuppressants to prevent organ damage
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs to relieve pain
- Monoclonal antibodies to reduce disease activity
- Calcium and vitamin D to prevent bone loss
Contact your child’s doctor to discuss the available treatment options.
Since lupus is a chronic condition, these medications may need to be continued indefinitely. Children with lupus will also require frequent monitoring to ensure that their disease symptoms are under control and to prevent organ damage from accumulating.
In addition, using plenty of sunscreen, getting enough rest, avoiding stress, and eating a healthy, well-balanced diet can help alleviate symptoms of pediatric-onset lupus.
If you suspect that your child has symptoms of pediatric lupus, please schedule an office visit today to undergo evaluation and testing with a board-certified pediatrician.