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Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease characterized by inflammation of the body's connective tissue and known to affect a range of body parts, including the kidneys, lungs, brain, heart, blood vessels and joints. It may affect people of any age, including young children, but it is often diagnosed between the ages of 12 and 44. Lupus in children can be difficult to diagnose, because the symptoms can resemble those of other, less serious illnesses, such as the flu. Common early symptoms include frequent fevers, body aches, fatigue, and loss of appetite.
Early signs might appear and progress gradually. Symptoms may also be intermittent – a child may feel very sick for a few days, and then appear completely normal. This is because lupus in children can flare up at certain times, causing severe symptoms, then go into remission, sometimes for long periods of time. The adult form of the disease also may have these periods of remission and relapse.
Although about 90 percent of people with the disease are female, the number of cases in boys and girls who haven't reached puberty is divided pretty evenly between the sexes. Lupus in children usually develops similarly to lupus in adults, with many of the same symptoms and characteristics. More distinctive symptoms can appear as lupus in children progresses.
One of the most well known signs of the disease is called a butterfly rash, which appears across the nose and cheeks, often after a child has been out in the sun. In some cases, a rash may also develop on the chest. Stiff or swollen joints, intermittent mouth sores, and hair loss are some other possible signs of lupus in children. A condition called Reynaud's syndrome, which causes the hands turn red, white, or blue when exposed to the cold, might also be a symptom. A child with Reynaud's, however, may not necessarily have lupus.
Lupus can be difficult to diagnose because it affects people so differently. If the disease is suspected in a child, a variety of diagnostic tests may be necessary to confirm it. Blood and urine tests can be performed to look for a variety of antibodies that typically are specific to lupus sufferers. Other tests can sometimes show which organs and body parts are being affected by the disease. In children, regular monitoring can sometimes predict a flare up before it happens, so the symptoms can be treated or, sometimes, completely prevented.