At first, Tyler developed red patches and raised spots that turned purple and looked like bruises all over his legs and buttocks. Then he complained that his stomach and knees hurt. When his parents took him to the doctor to find out what was wrong, the doctor said that Tyler had the classic signs of Henoch-Schönlein purpura.
Henoch-Schönlein purpura (HEH-nok SHOON-line PURR-puh-ruh) — usually just called HSP — is a condition that causes small blood vessels, to become swollen and irritated. This inflammation, called vasculitis, usually occurs in the skin, intestines, and kidneys. Inflamed blood vessels in the skin can leak red blood cells, causing a characteristic rash called purpura. Vessels in the intestines and kidneys also can swell and leak.
The disorder was named after two German physicians, Eduard Henoch and Johann Schönlein, who first described the disease in the 1800s. Sometimes it's also called allergic purpura or anaphylactoid purpura.
HSP occurs much more often in kids than in adults, usually between ages 2 and 11. It is one of the most common forms of vasculitis in children, and boys get it about twice as often as girls.
Although no one really knows what causes HSP, doctors do know that it occurs when the body's immune system doesn't function as it should. A protein called immunoglobulin A (IgA), a type of antibody, is deposited into the blood vessels and seems to be connected to their inflammation.
It is unclear why this immune reaction occurs, but in many cases, it seems to be triggered by a bacterial or viral infection of the upper respiratory tract (sinuses, throat, or lungs). Although less common, other triggers have been identified, such as certain medicines, food reactions, insect bites, and vaccinations.
HSP cannot be passed from one person to another.
Common signs and symptoms of HSP include:
The rash occurs in almost all cases and is usually what helps doctors diagnose HSP. It may take the form of pinpoint red dots (called petechiae), bruises, or sometimes blisters. The rash usually occurs on the legs and buttocks, but can also appear on other parts of the body, such as the elbows, arms, face, and trunk.
Most kids with HSP also have joint pain and swelling. These symptoms can happen before the rash appears. They most commonly affect large joints, such as the knees, ankles, and elbows, but the hands and feet can be affected.
Stomach pain usually starts a week after the rash appears. Pain is intermittent and can be accompanied by nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea. Some kids will have blood in the stool (caused by leaky blood vessels), but it may not be visible.
HSP can affect the kidneys. Small amounts of blood or protein might be found in the urine, which occasionally can be bloody.
When the characteristic rash on the legs and buttocks is present, especially if accompanied by abdominal or joint pain, doctors can easily diagnose HSP. A diagnosis may be more difficult if joint pain or abdominal symptoms are present before the rash appears, or if symptoms take several weeks to show up. To help make the diagnosis, the doctor may recommend a skin biopsy.
The doctor also may request routine blood tests to look for signs of infections, anemia, or kidney disease. If abdominal pain is severe, imaging tests (like X-rays or ultrasound) may be needed. A stool sample can check for blood in the stool (poop). A urine sample can reveal blood or protein in the urine.
Up to half of kids who develop HSP will have complications with their kidneys, so the doctor will probably check kidney function over several months. If the doctor suspects that HSP has caused kidney damage, your child may need to see a kidney doctor (nephrologist).
Symptoms of HSP usually last for about a month. Most of the time, it goes away on its own without treatment. To help your child feel better, the doctor may recommend certain medications, such as:
Also, the doctor may tell you to stop giving your child certain medications if there's a chance that they caused the HSP.
While at home, try to keep your child as comfortable as possible. Be sure your child gets plenty of rest and drinks fluids. If your child stops eating or drinking, or develops severe abdominal pain or kidney problems, hospitalization might be necessary.
Most children with HSP fully recover within a month and have no long-term problems. Kids whose kidneys are affected will need to see a doctor for regular checkups to monitor kidney function.
About one-third of those who have HSP get it again, usually a few months after the first episode. This (along with chronic kidney problems) is more common in older kids and adults. If HSP does come back, it's usually less severe than the initial episode.
Reviewed by: Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph, MD
Date reviewed: May 2013
|National Kidney Foundation (NKF) NKF seeks to prevent kidney and urinary tract diseases, improve the health and well-being of individuals and families affected by these diseases, and increase the availability of all organs for transplantation.|
|American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology The American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology offers up-to-date information and a find-an-allergist search tool.|
|American Society of Hematology This group provides information relating to blood, blood-forming tissues, and blood diseases.|
|Society of Vascular Surgeons To learn more about veins, arteries, and blood, print this activity book for kids from the Society of Vascular Surgeons. The book includes lots of activities and fun facts.|
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|Kidney Diseases in Childhood The kidneys play a critical role in health. When something goes wrong, it could indicate a kidney disease. What are kidney diseases, and how can they be treated?|
|Kidney Disease Sometimes, the kidneys aren't able to do their job properly. Other than kidney infections, the two most common kidney conditions among teens are nephritis and nephrosis.|
|A to Z: Idiopathic Thrombocytopenic Purpura Learn about immune system responses and conditions that can affect the blood.|
|Anemia Anemia is common in teens because they undergo rapid growth spurts, when the body has a greater need for nutrients like iron. Learn about anemia, including how to lower your risk of getting it and how it's treated.|
|About Anemia What does it mean when a kid has anemia? Learn about anemia, why kids get it, and how it's treated in our article for kids.|
|Anemia Anemia, one of the more common blood disorders, occurs when the number of healthy red blood cells decreases. This can result in a variety of symptoms, including fatigue and stress on all the body's organs.|
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