Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (Lupus) in Children and Adolescents

What is it?

Arthritis is a complex family of musculoskeletal disorders consisting of more than 100 different diseases or conditions that destroy joints, bones, muscles, cartilage and other connective tissues, hampering or halting physical movement. Lupus is one of many disorders of the immune system known as autoimmune diseases. In autoimmune diseases, the immune system turns against the body it's designed to protect for unknown reasons affecting nearly every organ system in the body, including the skin, joints, kidneys, heart, lungs, and central nervous system.

Lupus is a lot more common in young people than is generally believed. Adolescent girls develop lupus much more frequently than do boys, but in younger children before puberty, girls are affected only a little more frequently than are boys.

What are the effects?

Lupus is a disease of the immune system and for an unknown reason, the immune system in a person with lupus does not work properly. For children with lupus, this may mean painful and swollen joints, red skin, hair loss, hands changing colors in the cold or mouth sores. These symptoms, although painful and unpleasant, do not seriously harm the body's functions and may be treated with relatively safe medications. However, if the internal organs become involved as can happen with children and adolescents, the problem is much more serious.

How is it diagnosed?

Laboratory tests can help diagnose lupus and decide which, if any, organs are involved. In addition, regular testing of blood and urine after lupus is diagnosed can be very useful in monitoring the activity and severity of the disease, as well as how well the medications are tolerated.

Lupus is a disease which fluctuates; it can flare and then settle down again at any time. Often, in children and adolescents, monitoring tests can predict flares. In other words, the tests become abnormal before symptoms occur, and treatment started or increased at this stage may prevent further problems. One of the reasons for seeing your doctor so often, even though you may feel well, is to get these monitoring tests done.

What are the treatment options?

Treatment is available for everyone with lupus and it usually works well. The treatment is aimed at preventing complications, as well as treating the symptoms and signs of the disease. Medications such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, DMARDs and corticosteroids may be prescribed to help treat the symptoms of SLE.

What resources are available?

The Arthritis Foundation leads the way in helping people with arthritis live better today and create better tomorrows through new treatments, better access and, ultimately, cures. We do this by:

  • Funding life-changing research that has restored mobility in patients for more than six decades
  • Fighting for health care policies that improve the lives of the millions of Americans with arthritis
  • Partnering with families to provide empowering programs and information

If your child is diagnosed with lupus, some Arthritis Foundation resources that may help you better manage and live with your disease are:

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