What are the Signs of Lupus in Children?

N. Swensson

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.

Lupus impairs blood clotting, leading to bruising from even a minor bump.
Lupus impairs blood clotting, leading to bruising from even a minor bump.

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.

Symptoms of lupus in children may be intermittent.
Symptoms of lupus in children may be intermittent.

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.

Frequent fever is a common early symptom of lupus.
Frequent fever is a common early symptom of lupus.

Discussion Comments


@donasmrs-- That's right. The signs and symptoms are the same.

There are two types of lupus however, one that affects only the skin (cutaneous) and one that affects both facial skin and internal organs (systemic). So the signs and symptoms that the child will experience depend on what type of lupus she has.

For example, if a child is feeling very tired and sore all the time and has trouble moving her joints due to stiffness, she is showing signs of systemic lupus. If a child doesn't have these symptoms but experiences chronic skin rashes, on her face and elsewhere, these are signs and symptoms of cutaneous lupus.


It sounds like the signs of lupus disease in children are the same as the signs of lupus disease in adults. Am I right?


It's true that lupus symptoms in children mimic symptoms of other diseases. But I think what sets lupus symptoms apart are the duration and severity of the symptoms.

Flu will also cause body aches and pains, fatigue, headaches and some inflammation. But it usually resolves within two weeks. The symptoms of lupus do not resolve and become chronic. They also usually become more severe with time.

Lupus is also unique in that it can show up slightly differently in different people. So the best way to go about things is to see a doctor with experience in children's lupus.

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