Lupus is an autoimmune disease, where the body's own immune system recognizes the healthy tissues and cells as foreign invaders and hence, attacks them. The disease can cause inflammation in any part or organ of the body including heart, kidneys, blood cells, joints and lungs. It can affect individuals in any age group, including children. Among children, it has been found to be more prevalent among young girls, especially those in the age group of 11 to 15 years.
There are four types of lupus, namely, systemic lupus erythematosus, discoid lupus erythematosus, drug-induced lupus erythematosus and neonatal lupus. Out of them, the most common type of lupus is systemic lupus erythematosus, which can affect any part of the body including joints, kidney, skin and blood. Discoid lupus erythematosus, on the other hand affects only the skin. Drug-induced lupus erythematosus is associated with certain medications, while lupus that affects newborn babies is known as neonatal lupus.
Causes of Lupus
The exact causes of lupus are unknown, though both genetic and environmental factors are suspected to play an important role in causing this disease. Experts are of the opinion that some individuals are genetically predisposed to develop lupus, especially when they come in contact with certain environmental factors. Such environmental factors can include drugs, stress, hormones and infectious agents like virus.
Symptoms of Lupus in Children
Symptoms of lupus in children are usually similar to those observed in adults. These symptoms can be mild or severe, depending upon the affected part of the body. They can develop abruptly or gradually and can be temporary or permanent. But in general, lupus symptoms have been observed to subside for a while and then again reappear, which are referred to as flares, during which the symptoms usually intensify making the patient feel more exhausted. The signs and symptoms of lupus also vary significantly from person to person. Some individuals may experience inflammation only in joints and skin, while in others, it can affect several parts of the body.
Some of the most common symptoms of lupus in kids are:
- Sensitivity to sunlight.
- Swelling of the glands.
- Kidney problems or diseases.
- Extreme fatigue and unexplained fever.
- Oral ulcers and ulcers inside the nose.
- Blood disorders like low count of red and white blood cells and platelets.
- Arthritis or joint inflammation is also quite common among children with lupus.
- Raynaud's phenomenon, where fingers and toes become pale or turn purple, when exposed to cold, stress or illness.
- Shortness of breath combined with a feeling of tightness in the chest.
- Butterfly-shaped rash, known as malar rash, a reddish-purple rash that appears across the cheek and on the bridge of the nose.
- Development of lesions on skin that get worse when exposed to sunlight.
- If the disease affects the nervous system or the brain, then seizures, confusion and other psychiatric as well as neurological symptoms may arise.
- Inflammation and fluid accumulation can occur in the heart and lungs. Fluid accumulation has also been found to take place in other organs.
- Some children may develop a type of raised, scaly rash on the arms, chest, face, ears and head, which is known as discoid rash. Discoid rash can lead to scarring and hair loss.
Diagnosis and Treatment for Lupus
Proper diagnosis of lupus would require several diagnostic tests like blood and urine tests, ESR or erythrocyte sedimentation rate, C-reaction protein test and X-rays. Presently, there is no cure for this disease. Therefore, treatment is mainly directed towards alleviating the symptoms and preventing future outbreaks. Treatment options would greatly depend on the general health and well-being of the child, the organs that are affected, severity of the disease and what medications and therapies he or she can tolerate.
Generally, for mild inflammation, non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are suggested. However, steroids can also be required in certain instances. But severe inflammation would require immunosuppressive medications. These medications suppress the immune system in order to control autoimmune diseases like lupus.
To sum up, lupus symptoms in children resemble those seen in adults. But the disease may affect more organs in children. This is probably because the initial symptoms in children may go unnoticed, and the disease may not get diagnosed at an early stage. Besides this, the symptoms of lupus can be quite similar to the symptoms of other medical conditions. Therefore, it is very important to consult a physician on observing even mild symptoms in children. This would ensure early diagnosis as well as treatment, and hence, will help in the prevention of any associated complication.