Lupus in Teens

by Sara Ipatenco

    Lupus is an autoimmune disorder that affects the rheumatic system, which includes the muscles, joints and connective tissues, but it can affect other organs, too, according to the Lupus Foundation of America. Lupus is a difficult disorder to diagnosis because the causes and symptoms can vary widely between patients. If your teen has been struggling with fatigue and weakness, getting her tested for lupus is worth considering as these are among the early signs of the disorder. If you have any questions about your teen's symptoms or condition, be sure to follow up with her pediatrician for diagnosis and treatment.

    Definition, Prevalence and Types

    Lupus is a disease that causes the immune system to work overtime, which means that it attacks the patient's own body. About 10,000 children have been diagnosed with lupus in the United States, according to the KidsHealth website, and 90 percent of them are girls. The most common type of lupus in children is Systemic Lupus Erythematosus or SLE. It's the most serious form and people with the disease usually start developing symptoms during the teenage years. Cutaneous Lupus is a type of lupus that affects the skin, but it's much more rare. Drug-induced lupus occurs when a patient has a reaction to certain types of medication, but it usually goes away once the person stops taking the medicine.

    Causes

    While the exact causes of lupus aren't always known, genetics is thought to play a role in the diagnosis, according to KidsHealth, and 10 percent of children with lupus have a family member that also has the disease. However, only about 5 percent of teens who has a parent with lupus ever contracts the disease, notes the Boston Children's Hospital, but certain children can contain genes that increase their risk. In addition to these genes, environmental factors can play a role in the formation of lupus, too. Though there's no definitive proof, hormones, infection, ultraviolet light and extreme stress might contribute to the disease.

    Symptoms

    Lupus is often difficult for doctors to diagnose because many of the most common symptoms mimic other illnesses and disorders. To further complicate a diagnosis, certain symptoms can come and go or disappear entirely, according to the Boston Children's Hospital. The most common symptoms of lupus include fatigue, loss of appetite, weight loss, achy joints, fever, skin rash, brittle hair and mouth ulcers. If lupus spreads, which is more common among children than adults, your teen might also experience dark urine, shortness of breath, chest pain, headaches and brain disorders. If your teen develops any of these symptoms, don't automatically assume that it's lupus, but do make an appointment with her doctor who can run the appropriate tests and make the correct diagnosis whether it's lupus or something else entirely.

    Considerations

    If your teen develops any of the symptoms of lupus, but other illnesses have been ruled out, ask her pediatrician about a lupus test. KidsHealth recommends asking for a lupus test if your teen develops four or more of the most common symptoms. Once diagnosed, a teen might feel isolated from her peers, according to Boston Children's Hospital, but there are ways to manage the disease and have a fairly normal life. Teens with lupus should take their prescribed medication on time, take frequent breaks to avoid getting fatigued and avoid alcohol, cigarettes and drugs. Teens should avoid body piercings and tattoos, as well, because they increase the risk of a serious infection. Find a pediatric rheumatologist to treat your teen. These doctors specialize in pediatric autoimmune disorders as are the most well-equipped to treat your teen and help her manage her symptoms.

    About the Author

    Sara Ipatenco has taught writing, health and nutrition. She started writing in 2007 and has been published in Teaching Tolerance magazine. Ipatenco holds a bachelor's degree and a master's degree in education, both from the University of Denver.

    Photo Credits

    • Hemera Technologies/AbleStock.com/Getty Images