Although it is most likely to develop between the ages of fifteen and forty-five, lupus can happen at any age. Fighting lupus at ten, however, is a different matter than fighting it at sixty. Young bodies and older bodies have different needs, and lupus can show itself in very different ways, depending on age of onset.
For children, there are two main difficulties: first, the length of time it can take for a correct diagnosis to be made, and secondly, the dangerous effects of immunosuppressive medications on growing bodies. Lupus isn’t easily recognized in children; it can seem like the flu, or have no obvious outward symptoms at all, at least at first. This means that, by the time the doctor recognizes the true problem, the disease has progressed to a severe level, and heavy doses of drugs are required to halt autoimmune activity. And immunosuppressants, unfortunately, are hard on children’s bodies. They interfere with proper growth, cause acne and weight gain, damage bone marrow and increase likelihood of infection and can lead to cancer later in life, or make it difficult to conceive children in adulthood.
Lupus in people aged fifty and older is termed “late-onset lupus,” and it comes with its own set of difficulties. People with late-onset lupus are less likely to experience flares and tend to have milder symptoms than younger lupus patients – however, serious cases of late-onset are more likely to be fatal, and the chances an older patient will have dangerous secondary complications such as heart, lung and kidney illnesses are higher. Older patients do not metabolize medication as effectively as younger people, and are at increased risk of damage from side effects, particularly with medications that weaken bones or cause cataracts.
Fighting Lupus with Healthy Habits
The good news is that drugs are not the only answer. Good nutrition, vitamin supplements, alternative therapy and even herbal medicines can ease symptoms and calm an overactive immune system. Children up to the age of puberty should eat primarily carbohydrates in the form of vegetables, fruit and grains, and healthy fats and protein in lesser amounts. Teen girls should add additional iron and calcium once menstruation begins, and teen boys should increase protein intake.
Food allergies can worsen lupus symptoms, so parents are urged to note any increase in stomach upset or rash after certain kinds of foods, particularly dairy and grains containing gluten. Steroid use can lead to acne and sudden weight gain in children and teens – it may be necessary to limit fat and calorie intake, and consult a dermatologist for steroid-related skin problems.
Those with late-onset lupus, however, should consider the risk of secondary conditions such as heart and kidney problems when planning meals. Omega-3 rich foods protect against heart disease; calcium, through both dairy and plant sources, will strengthen bones and lower the risk of osteoporosis. Although protein intake should be limited for older patients, due to the increased chance of kidney disease, certain medications actually increase the need for protein.
In early and late-onset lupus, exercise is very important for overall health, although the level of activity will vary depending on age and the severity of the disease. And any outdoor exercise should take the photosensitivity symptomatic of lupus into account; on bright, sunny days, it may be necessary to exercise indoors, or risk rashes and lupus flares. A treatment plan designed according to individual needs will consider the patient’s symptoms, medications, family background and medical history. It won’t be one size fits all; rather, the patient will work with the physician to create a plan that treats the disease and protects the patient’s quality of life.