We have heard much about various kinds of autoimmune diseases that occur in adults. But very few know about autoimmune diseases that happen in children. Our bodies contain an immune system that constantly protects us from outside invaders - We would be sick all the time without this vital system. However, when it turns against us, autoimmune diseases occur.
Autoimmune diseases in children are very rare and they can be challenging to diagnose and difficult to treat. Doctors are still learning about these chronic illnesses most of which have no cure yet. If your child has an autoimmune disease, much depends on figuring it out and treating the condition aggressively.
What Happens When a Child Has Autoimmune Disease?
In an autoimmune condition, the immune system mistakenly attacks tissues and healthy cells and fails to shut off the attack. This is different from other immune system malfunctions such as acquired immunodeficiency disorders, for example, AIDS. In immunodeficiency disorders, the immune system becomes weak or ineffective and overreacts to the things such as nuts and pollen grains when coming in contact.
Autoimmune diseases can affect any part of the body and they often target connective tissue such as muscles, joints, and skin. The symptoms may range from mild rashes, and fatigue, to serious side effects like seizures. These diseases are difficult to diagnose because of the symptoms which tend to come and go and are sometimes nonspecific.
Autoimmune diseases occur more often in females by a 3-to-1 ratio over males.
Doctors still don’t exactly know why few children’s immune systems begin attacking their own bodies. However, many of them predict that it is something related to their genes and more likely a number of other unknown factors.
Parents need to know that their child’s disease wasn’t caused by anything they did.
What Types of Autoimmune Diseases Affect Children?
Our immune system is designed to protect the entire body. When it malfunctions, then it can attack any body parts of the body virtually from the joints to the skin and the blood vessels which all respond to the condition in different ways and often require different strategies to treat.
Autoimmune conditions generally fall into two basic groups:
Organ-specific disorders are also called localized disorders while Non-organ-specific disorders are also called systemic.
The organ-specific disorders focus on a specific type of organ or tissue such as.
- Autoimmune hepatitis affects the liver.
- Addison's disease affects the adrenal glands.
- Crohn's disease affects the gastrointestinal tract.
- Ulcerative colitis affects the gastrointestinal tract.
- Type 1 diabetes affects the pancreas.
- Multiple sclerosis affects the central nervous system.
Non-organ-specific disorders cause problems throughout the body such as:
- Lupus affects the skin, joints, kidneys, liver, brain, heart, and other organs.
- Juvenile dermatomyositis affects the muscles and skin.
- Scleroderma affects the joints, skin, intestine, and sometimes the lungs.
- Juvenile idiopathic arthritis affects joints and sometimes the lungs and skin.
Who Is at Risk of Autoimmune Diseases?
There are several kinds of autoimmune diseases and risk factors can vary based on illness. Researches show strong links to the following factors.
Many autoimmune diseases affect younger and middle-aged people. And some of the diseases begin mostly during childhood. Some of them are juvenile
dermatomyositis and juvenile idiopathic arthritis.
Girls are almost three times at risk of having autoimmune diseases compared to boys with adolescent girls and young women being at the greatest risk.
Some diseases such as scleroderma and lupus occur in more than 85% of female patients.
However, one of the most common autoimmune diseases in children is type 1 diabetes which affects both girls and boys equally.
A family history of autoimmune disorder keeps your child at higher risk of inheriting it. It is estimated that one-third of the risk of autoimmune
diseases is tied to the child’s genes.
Some reports suggest that children of different races are more prone to autoimmune diseases. For instance, African and American children seem to be
more likely than Caucasians to develop scleroderma and lupus.
Children with autoimmune diseases tend to be at higher risk of developing another autoimmune disease. For an instance, children with type 1 diabetes
appear to be susceptible to developing Addison's disease or celiac disease.
Can We Prevent Autoimmune Diseases?
There are no such precautions proven to prevent autoimmune diseases. Although researchers are working on it for the long term, the National Institutes of Health outlined three major challenges that researchers face:
Zeroing environmental factors that may trigger disease,
Recognizing specific genetic patterns of people that are susceptible to autoimmune disease and
Coming up with ways to intervene in the disease before it begins.
What is the long-term outlook for children with an autoimmune disease?
Autoimmune diseases are considered lifelong conditions. Certain conditions like juvenile dermatomyositis can be cured with successful treatment and the symptoms never recur. Even after the disease goes away, you will need to keep a close eye on their immune system and other health conditions.
If your child has a serious autoimmune condition, they may get better or even worse but a sudden severe return of symptoms isn’t common. Even after diagnosing the autoimmune disease in your child, doctors can’t predict exactly what will happen but they will give the family a sense of support and a treatment plan that ensures the best possible outcome. No worries! Autoimmune disease can be managed, and in children, the chances of reversing the condition are high. This can be achieved through proper medical support and a healthy lifestyle.
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