Lupus nephritis in childhood and adolescence

Pediatr Nephrol. 1994 Apr;8(2):230-49. doi: 10.1007/BF00865490.


Lupus nephritis in childhood usually presents after the age of 10 years, and presentation under 5 years is very rare. More males (F:M ratio 4.5:1) are affected than in adult-onset cases, but the ratio is the same in prepubertal and pubertal children. The incidence of clinically evident renal disease is greater at onset than in adults (82%), the usual presentation being with proteinuria, 50% having a nephrotic syndrome. Half the children show World Health Organisation class IV nephritis in renal biopsies. Neuropsychiatric lupus is present at onset in 30%, may complicate 50% at some point and remains a major problem. Prognosis has improved greatly over the past 30 years, at least in part the result of immunosuppressive treatment. Treatment of the initial phase may be guided by the severity of the renal biopsy appearances, more aggressive treatment including cytotoxic agents, i.v. methylprednisolone and perhaps plasma exchange, although the value of exchange is not established. Controversy persists as to the most effective cytotoxic treatment in the acute phase, both oral and i.v. cyclophosphamide and azathioprine being used in different units. In the chronic maintenance phase it seems established both clinically and histologically that addition of a cytotoxic agent improves outcome, but again the drug and route of administration are contentious. Azathioprine has the advantage of being safe for pregnancy and not gonadotoxic, whilst i.v. cyclophosphamide has been demonstrated to improve results over prednisolone alone in controlled trials and has advantages in non-compliant patients. No trial comparing the two regimes has been carried out, and one is needed. Today children much less commonly go into renal failure, and the main causes of actual death (15% of patients over 10 years) are now infections and extra-renal manifestations of lupus, principally neurological. Morbidity of the disease and the treatment remain a major problem, especially when treatment exacerbates complications of the disease itself, such as infections, osteonecrosis, thrombosis, vascular disease and possibly neoplasia.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Age of Onset
  • Child
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lupus Erythematosus, Systemic / complications
  • Lupus Erythematosus, Systemic / therapy
  • Lupus Nephritis* / diagnosis
  • Lupus Nephritis* / etiology
  • Lupus Nephritis* / therapy
  • Male
  • Prognosis
  • Treatment Outcome