Lupus can develop in people of all ages, including children. Lupus that develops under the age of 18 (pediatric lupus) tends to be more severe than lupus that starts in adulthood.
Lupus is an autoimmune condition in which your immune system attacks tissues throughout your body. It can affect any organ system.
The most common type of lupus is called systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). It’s estimated to affect about
SLE is called pediatric lupus or juvenile-onset SLE when it develops in people under the age of 18. Pediatric lupus makes up about
Lupus can cause many different symptoms that range from mild to severe. Pediatric lupus tends to cause
In this article, we cover everything you need to know about lupus in children.
You’ll notice that we use the terms “female(s),” “women,” and “mother” to share stats and other data points in this article.
Although we typically avoid language like this in favor of more inclusive language, specificity is key when reporting on research participants and clinical findings.
Unfortunately, the studies and surveys referenced in this article didn’t report data on, or include, participants who were transgender, nonbinary, gender nonconforming, genderqueer, agender, or genderless.
Types of lupus in children
SLE is the most common type of lupus in children and adults. It causes widespread inflammation and can damage
- blood vessels
Pediatric SLE most often develops in children of ages
Other types of lupus include:
- Cutaneous lupus erythematosus: Cutaneous lupus erythematosus is a type of lupus that only affects the skin.
- Drug-induced lupus: Drug-induced lupus is an autoimmune condition that develops when a drug triggers the development of SLE.
- Neonatal lupus: Neonatal lupus develops when antibodies that cause lupus are transferred from a mother to her fetus.
Lupus can cause symptoms that range from mild to severe. Signs and symptoms of lupus include:
- fatigue or extreme exhaustion
- muscle and joint swelling
- butterfly-shaped rash on the nose and cheeks
- other skin rashes
- hair loss
- mouth sores
- sun sensitivity
- lung problems
- memory problems
- eye disease
- anemia or blood clotting problems
- kidney problems
- heart problems
- numbness or discoloration of fingers or toes
- chest pain when breathing deeply
Lupus tends to affect the
Researchers don’t know why some people develop SLE, but
- female sex (more than
90%of people with lupus are women)
- ethnicity (Black and Hispanic females are
2 to 3 timesmore likely to develop lupus than white women, which may be due to healthcare inequities.)
- family history of SLE or related autoimmune disease
- crystalline silica exposure
- pollution exposure
- smoking tobacco cigarettes
- taking oral birth control
- ultraviolet (UV) radiation exposure
- exposure to some chemicals like:
- dry-cleaning solvents
- nail polish removers
- exposure to heavy metals like mercury
- some infections
Lupus can cause many different complications, such as:
Doctors diagnose lupus with a combination of testing methods, such as:
- examining your child’s personal and family medical history
- looking for characteristic features like a rash
- using blood and urine tests to look for lupus antibodies
- performing skin or kidney biopsies
Lupus doesn’t have a cure, but medications can help reduce flare-ups. These include:
- Corticosteroids: Corticosteroids can help reduce immune system activity. They’re the
main treatmentfor both children and adults.
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): NSAIDs like ibuprofen can help reduce pain and swelling.
- Antimalarial drugs: According to the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there’s evidence that antimalarial drugs can help stop flare-ups and increase the life span.
- B lymphocyte stimulator (BLyS)-specific inhibitors: These drugs reduce the number of cells that produce antibodies.
Belimumab(Benlysta) is Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved for children older than 5 years.
- Immunosuppressants: Immunosuppressants reduce immune system activity.
The Lupus Foundation of America recommends encouraging children to:
It’s important to seek medical attention if your child has potential lupus symptoms like a butterfly rash or fever with no known cause.
It’s also important to get medical attention if your child’s symptoms get worse or they develop new symptoms.
Lupus can cause life threatening complications. Call 911 or local emergency medical services or go to the nearest emergency room if your child develops severe symptoms like:
Researchers haven’t identified any proven ways to prevent lupus. According to the
Children with lupus tend to have a poorer outlook than adults with lupus. The course of the disease varies significantly between children. The disease course can range from being mild to resulting in a severely reduced life expectancy.
SLE in children tends to be more severe than SLE in adults and has a higher need for treatment with corticosteroids and immunosuppressants.
Here are some frequently asked questions people have about lupus in children.
What is the youngest age to get lupus?
People of any age can develop lupus, including infants. SLE is
Will my other children also get lupus?
The risk of SLE is estimated to be
Can vaccinations cause lupus?
Will my child need to be on medications for the rest of their life?
Lupus doesn’t currently have a cure. Treatment needs to be continued throughout life.
Lupus can develop in people of all ages, including children or adolescents. Lupus that develops under the age of 18 tends to be more severe than lupus that starts in adulthood.
Lupus doesn’t have a cure, but it can be managed with medications. Encouraging your child to take their medication as prescribed and to follow other preventive steps gives them the best chance of enjoying a high quality of life.