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Paediatrics: Systemic lupus erythematosus

Complex, multisystem autoimmune disorder affecting adolescents (rare in younger children; female:male ratio 20:1).

Systemic lupus erythematosus


Complex, multisystem autoimmune disorder affecting adolescents (rare in younger children; female:male ratio 20:1). Commoner and more severe in Afro-Caribbean, Hispanic, and Far Eastern girls.


The ARA criteria are helpful (90% sensitivity 97% specificity), but less reliable in early disease.1 One of the ‘great mimics’ of other conditions.


The revised ARA criteria for the classification of SLE1

SLE is diagnosed if 4 of the 11 features present simultaneously or serially:

   Malar rash


   Discoid rash




   Mouth ulcers

   Arthritis (non-erosive)

   Serositis: pleurisy or pericarditis

   Renal disease: persistent proteinuria >0.5g/24hr or cellular casts

   Neurological disorder: psychosis or seizures in absence of known precipitants

   Haematological abnormality: haemolytic anaemia or leucopenia <4.0 x 109/L on 2 or more occasions or thrombocytopenia <100 x 109/L

   Immunological: raised anti DNA binding antibody, anti-Smith antibody, and/or +ve antiphospholipid antibodies

   Antinuclear antibody


Clinical features


The presenting complaint may affect any organ system.

   Non-specific constitutional symptoms common: low grade fever, weight loss, fatigue, anorexia, and lymphadenopathy.


   Mucocutaneous problems: hair loss (scarring and non-scarring alopecia); mouth ulcers; photosensitivity (50%); Raynaud’s phenomenon (90%); malar ‘butterfly’ rash over bridge of nose and sparing nasolabial folds; discoid lesions; livido reticularis; urticarial rashes; purpuric rashes; digital vasculitis.


   Musculoskeletal (90%): polyarthritis resembling rheumatoid arthritis (non-erosive); tendonitis; arthralgia; myalgia; myositis (5%); aseptic necrosis.


   Cardiovascular: pericarditis (silent or rapidly constrictive); myositis, valvulitis with endocarditis (Libman–Sachs).


   Pulmonary: pleurisy; pleural effusions; haemoptysis from pulmonary vasculitis; interstitial fibrosis; pneumonitis.


   Renal: hypertension; proteinuria; nephritis; nephrotic syndrome; renal failure.


Haematological: anaemia (normochromic normocytic, Coombs +ve haemolytic, renal failure, drug-related); leucopenia and lymphopenia common (80%); thrombocytopenia (20%) chronic, rarely aggressive.

Neurological: migraine (40%); mood disorders (anxiety, depression, emotional liability (70%)); psychoses (rare); seizures (rare); peripheral neuropathies (10%).


Careful drug history: especially tetracyclines for acne (+ve antihistone antibodies).




FBC, LFTs; renal function; BP measurement; urinalysis; ANA (99%), dsD-NA (40% , but specific for SLE); RF; coagulation screen; anticardiolipin and antiphospholipid antibodies. ESR may be raised; CRP low unless serositis or infection; C3, C4 low in active disease.


Management: in specialist clinic


General: avoid sun exposure and use sun-screen; treat hypertension; and minimize long-term cardiovascular risks. Use ACE inhibitors for nephroprotection for proteinuria.


Target and treat aggressively affected organs.


NSAIDs for musculoskeletal symptoms.


Hydroxychloroquine for fatigue, rashes, and arthritis.


Prednisolone and steroid-sparing drugs (azathioprine (AZA), MTX, mycophenolate mofetil (MMF)) for other severe manifestations.


Prednisolone and cyclophosphamide for active nephritis; then AZA or MMF.


Experimental treatments for refractory cases: rituximab; autologous stem cell replacement.




Very variable between ethnic groups. Overall 5-yr survival 90% with death from unremitting active disease or immunosuppression.

Prognosis worse for those with nephritis (60% after 15yrs).


Bimodal survival curve with long-term increased risk of cardiovascular disease.


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