Childhood systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is a severe autoimmune disease that occurs when the immune system is overactive and mistakenly attacks the body, causing inflammation in many organs, including skin rash, joint swelling with pain, kidney problems, lung inflammation and disorders of the nervous system. This causes severe multisystem disease that can lead to organ damage.
Other symptoms of childhood systemic lupus erythematosus include:
The exact causes of SLE are unknown, but some patients are born with genetic factors that make them more prone to developing it. Some environmental conditions can trigger the immune response that causes lupus. These possible triggers are:
Your child’s doctor will use results from one or more of the following blood tests—in combination with the presence of the above symptoms—to diagnose childhood systemic lupus erythematosus:
If your child has blood or protein in his or her urine, the rheumatologist will likely need to order a kidney biopsy to determine what kind of kidney inflammation is occurring and how to treat that inflammation.
If your child’s rheumatologist confirms a diagnosis of childhood systemic lupus erythematosus, it is important that you follow the recommended treatment plan in order to decrease the chance of serious complications and effects. Note that the course of the disease is usually worse in the first two to three years after diagnosis. Symptoms typically diminish somewhat after that.
Lupus has no cure, but proper treatment can help ease the symptoms, slow its progression and prevent damage. The pediatric rheumatologist will determine appropriate treatment for SLE based on how severe the symptoms of the condition are for your child. The purpose of treatment is to suppress the autoimmune process, prevent damage to the affected organs and restore health. Your child may be prescribed one or more of the following medicines in specific combinations:
All children with lupus are advised to avoid direct sun exposure, as sunlight can act as a stimulant to the autoimmune response. Patients with lupus should follow a low-fat, heart-healthy diet as well as get regular exercise and adequate sleep; they often need more sleep than their friends.
Visit the trusted websites below to learn more about childhood systemic lupus erythematosus.
Riley at IU Health offers a broad range of supportive services to make life better for families who choose us for their children's care.
The American College of Rheumatology provides detailed information about systemic lupus erythematosus in children and teens.
The American College of Rheumatology supports The Lupus Initiative, which provides resources and support for lupus patients and their families.
The pediatric rheumatologists at Riley at IU Health are currently involved in several research studies for childhood systemic erythematosus. One study seeks to understand how the hormones produced during puberty affect systemic lupus erythematosus and how hormones influence the function of the immune system. Another study is looking to see how HER2 (a small regulator of gene expression) predicts lupus nephritis—this study is being conducted in collaboration with the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia. We also participate in the Childhood Arthritis and Rheumatology Research Alliance (CARRA) registry. Your child's doctor can provide more information about participation in these research studies and clinical trials.
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