Lupus is an autoimmune condition where the immune system attacks the internal organs, skin, joints, and mucous membranes. Lupus affects each individual differently, and the symptoms can range from mild to severe. The majority of people who have lupus are young women, and it is rare in children. When it does occur in children, it is most often at the age of 10 and older. According to the Arthritis Foundation, about 25,000 children and adolescents have lupus or a related disorder.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

The disease is known to have periods of flare-ups and periods of remission (partial or complete lack of symptoms). General symptoms may include weight loss, fatigue, unexplained fevers, hair loss, mouth or nose sores, joint pain and swelling, and rashes. Other symptoms may include memory loss, decreased concentration, shortness of breath, and signs of kidney disease (fluid retention, headaches, high blood pressure, and leg swelling). Children may develop a rash that typically gets worse with sun exposure.

A blood test called an anti-nuclear antibody (ANA) may show high levels in patients with lupus. However, a positive blood test alone would not make the diagnosis of lupus, as many healthy people have a positive ANA test without having lupus. The diagnosis is made usually when there is a positive blood test along with a child’s medical history, reported symptoms, and a physical examination.


At UPMC Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, our physicians make a diagnosis of lupus based on the child’s overall health and symptoms. If symptoms are mild, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications may be used for joint pain. Other treatment may include:

  • hydroxychloriquine (Plaquenil®) for prevention of flare-ups
  • corticosteroids (prednisone) to control inflammation
  • Photo protection such as sunscreen and wearing hats

Children with lupus are initially seen by a rheumatologist in the Division of Pediatric Rheumatology at Children’s Hospital. Other specialists such as nephrologists (kidney), dermatologists (skin), and ophthalmologists (eye) may be consulted depending on the child’s symptoms.

Learn more about the causes, symptoms, and treatment of lupus.

To schedule a consultation with a pediatric rheumatologist, call 412-692-5081.