Neonatal lupus: clinical features and management

Paediatr Drugs. 2004;6(2):71-8. doi: 10.2165/00148581-200406020-00001.


Neonatal lupus is an uncommon autoimmune disease manifested primarily by cutaneous lupus lesions and/or congenital heart block. Maternal autoantibodies of the Ro/La family are present in virtually every case, although only approximately 1% of women who have these autoantibodies will have a baby with neonatal lupus. The cutaneous lesions of neonatal lupus may be present at birth, but more often develop within the first few weeks of life. Lesions are most common on the face and scalp, often in a distinctive periorbital distribution. Lesions tend to resolve in a few weeks or months without scarring. The most common cardiac manifestation of neonatal lupus is complete heart block. Heart block typically begins in utero during the second or third trimester. In some cases, heart block begins as first- or second-degree block and then progresses to third-degree block. Complete heart block, once established, appears to be irreversible. In some cases, cardiomyopathy occurs together with complete heart block. Most cases have been noted at birth, but delayed dilated cardiomyopathy has been reported. There have been a few cases of endocardial fibroelastosis occurring in the absence of congenital heart block. Hepatobiliary disease occurs in about 10% of cases. Three types of hepatobiliary disease have been observed: liver failure occurring at birth or in utero, transient conjugated hyperbilirubinemia occurring in infants, or transient transaminase elevations occurring in infants. Hematologic disease, consisting of thrombocytopenia, neutropenia, or anemia, occurs in about 10% of cases. It is common for children with neonatal lupus not to have the full expression of disease, but rather to have only one or two organ systems involved. The diagnosis rests largely on the finding of compatible clinical manifestations plus maternal autoantibodies to Ro and/or La, or, in a few cases, to U1 ribonuclear protein. Although the pathogenesis has not been conclusively established, accumulating evidence, including evidence from animal models, implicates autoantibodies in the pathogenesis of the disease. Therapeutic interventions include attempts at prevention, early intervention, and treatment of well established disease, mainly through the use of systemic corticosteroids. Optimal therapy has yet to be determined. The long-term prognosis for children who have had neonatal lupus is still under investigation, but some children who had neonatal lupus have developed other autoimmune diseases later in childhood. About half of the mothers are asymptomatic at the time of presentation of the child, but some of these women eventually develop symptoms of autoimmune disease.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Child
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Lupus Erythematosus, Cutaneous / congenital*
  • Lupus Erythematosus, Cutaneous / diagnosis
  • Lupus Erythematosus, Cutaneous / therapy*
  • Male
  • Prognosis*