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Treatment Options for Children with Lupus

written by: Jacquelyn Gilchrist • edited by: Diana Cooper • updated: 11/14/2010

There is no cure for lupus, an autoimmune disorder. Fortunately, there are a variety of treatment options. Treatments for lupus in children often consist of a combination of medication and lifestyle changes. Learn the benefits and potential risks of treatment options in this guide to lupus.

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    Corticosteroids

    Treatments for lupus in children may include a round of corticosteroids. Your child may take corticosteroids if he experiences inflammation. This will help relieve his joint and muscle pain. Corticosteroids may be applied as a cream (if your child has a skin rash) or taken orally. If he experiences a lupus flare-up, the doctor may administer the medication intravenously. When taking the pill, ensure that your child does not eat or drink milk with the drug, as this can increase stomach discomfort. A few sips of water is fine.

    Corticosteroids, such as prednisone or methylprednisolone, can cause side effects. The cream may result in skin discoloration and thinning. The intravenous method may cause nervousness, infection and a metallic taste. If your child takes the pill, watch out for facial swelling, weight gain, muscle weakness and mood changes. The long-term risks of corticosteroids include loss of bone mass, diabetes, high blood pressure and vision problems, like glaucoma or cataracts.

    If your child's lupus symptoms subside, he may no longer need corticosteroids (at least, for now). Follow the doctor's advice on gradually reducing the dosages. Never abruptly stop this medication.

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    NSAIDs

    NSAIDs, or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, may also help your child. The doctor may recommend them if he suffers from inflammation, fever or pain. They are available over-the-counter (ibuprofen and aspirin), or the doctor may recommend a prescription-strength NSAID.

    These drugs may cause an upset stomach. Unlike corticosteroids, taking these pills with food or milk can help soothe the stomach. Other possible side effects can include fluid retention and diarrhea. It is rare for a child to experience liver or kidney complications from long-term NSAID use.

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    Antimalarials

    Mouth ulcers, lung inflammation, and joint pain are other common symptoms of lupus. If your child experiences any of these, the doctor may consider prescribing an antimalarial, which is a drug originally intended to treat malaria. Antimalarials can also help alleviate skin rashes and fatigue, as well as help your child avoid lupus flare-ups.

    If your child takes an antimalarial (only available in pills taken orally), have him take the medicine at the same time each day, either before or after a meal. This helps maintain a steady level of the drug in his system.

    Be on the look-out for possible side effects, such as dizziness, diarrhea, vomiting, stomach discomfort, and headaches. Rarely, these treatments for lupus in children may cause eye damage. Have your child's eyes checked every six months.

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    Immunosuppressives

    Immunosuppressives are not ideal for every child with lupus. They are generally only used for those who have complications of the kidneys or central nervous system resulting from lupus. Immunosuppressives may be ideal for patients who have experienced adverse reactions to corticosteroids, as well. These drugs, intended to suppress the immune system, work by limiting the production of immune cells. They are typically taken either orally or intravenously.

    If your child needs to take an immunosuppressive, be aware that possible side effects can include bladder problems, nausea, vomiting, and hair loss. These drugs may also render your child more vulnerable to infections.

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    Daily Care

    In addition to your child's lupus treatment regimen, your child may need to alter his lifestyle or habits to keep himself as healthy as possible. One example is sunlight exposure. Excessive exposure to the sun can worsen symptoms of lupus, particularly the facial rash. Sitting on the beach all day is probably not the healthiest activity for your child. Instead, schedule outdoor activities during the mornings and evenings when the sunlight is weaker. Cover him liberally with sunscreen and encourage him to wear hats and long-sleeve shirts.

    Other important factors in your child's wellness are his sleep habits and his diet. Ensure that he eats a well-balanced diet and contact his doctor if you have any specific dietary concerns. Encourage him to get eight to 10 hours of sleep each night. Napping and taking breaks from activities during the day are also helpful.

    Check with your child's doctor before scheduling him for any vaccines. He should only receive vaccines containing dead viral matter; never live vaccines.

    Keeping your child safe with lupus can be challenging; work with a team of caregivers to help him cope with day-to-day struggles. He may benefit from psychological counseling or meeting other kids who have lupus.


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