Objective: To investigate potential differences between childhood-onset and adult-onset systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE).
Methods: An inception cohort with childhood-onset SLE (n = 67) was compared with an inception cohort with adult-onset SLE (n = 131), each of whom was diagnosed between 1990 and 1998 and followed up until February 1999. Prospective information included data on medications, laboratory markers, and disease activity and damage as measured by the SLE Disease Activity Index (SLEDAI) and the Systemic Lupus International Collaborating Clinics/American College of Rheumatology Damage Index (SDI), respectively.
Results: Eighty-five percent of patients with childhood-onset SLE and 88% of patients with adult-onset SLE were female; the mean duration of followup was 3.2 and 3.5 years, respectively. On average, the children had more-active disease than did the adults at the time of diagnosis and during followup. There was a higher incidence of renal disease in those with childhood-onset SLE (78% versus 52% in adults; P = 0.0005), and the adjusted mean SLEDAI renal score was higher in the children than in the adults (2.37 versus 0.82; P < 0.0001). Treatment with steroids (97% versus 72%; P < 0.0001) and immunosuppressive drugs (66% versus 37%; P = 0.0001) was used significantly more often in children with SLE. Four adult patients with SLE, but none of the children, died during the followup. At the end of the followup, the mean SDI scores in those with childhood-onset SLE were higher than those with adult-onset SLE (1.70 versus 0.76; P = 0.008).
Conclusion: Children with childhood-onset SLE have more active disease at presentation and over time than do adults with SLE, especially active renal disease. Compared with adults with SLE, children receive more intensive drug therapy and accrue more damage, often related to steroid toxicity.