Childhood- and adult-onset lupus: an update of similarities and differences

Expert Rev Clin Immunol. 2009 Jul;5(4):391-403. doi: 10.1586/eci.09.29.


Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is a multifactorial autoimmune rheumatic disease. Although its highest prevalence is among women of childbearing age, the disease is not confined within this population. A total of 15-20% of cases of SLE are diagnosed in children younger than 16 years (childhood-onset lupus). Although there have been few studies directly comparing childhood- to adult-onset lupus, there is substantial evidence to suggest that pediatric lupus patients display some differences in their disease profile compared with adult-onset populations. Overall, an increased male-to-female ratio, a higher prevalence of nephritis and CNS involvement necessitating a more sustained need for steroids and immnosuppressive drugs, and a higher prevalence of progression to end-stage renal disease are distinguishing features of childhood-onset lupus. In contrast, a higher prevalence of pulmonary involvement, arthritis and discoid lupus are reported in adult-onset SLE patients. Furthermore, childhood-onset lupus patients may experience a serious negative impact on their psychosocial and physical development, issues that pose extra challenges to healthcare providers. Growth delay, osteoporosis, the psychological effect of steroid-induced alterations of the physical image, and often poor treatment compliance are the issues that need to be addressed in pediatric lupus populations. In this review, we compare the epidemiological, clinical and laboratory features, and treatment options of childhood- and adult-onset lupus, and comment on the applicability of the instruments that measure activity, severity and cumulative disease damage in childhood-onset disease. In addition, we highlight special issues of concern for pediatric lupus patients, discussing the significance in the transition from pediatric to adult rheumatology care.