Children of Mothers with Lupus More Likely to Develop Learning Disorders, Review Reports

Joana Fernandes, PhD avatar

by Joana Fernandes, PhD |

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Lupus offspring study

Children born to mothers with lupus may end up with developmental disabilities, according to a review of more than two dozen studies.

Learning and reading difficulties and dyslexia are among the problems the children may experience as they develop, researchers said.

The review, “The development of offspring from mothers with systemic lupus erythematosus — a systematic review,” was published in the journal Autoimmunity Reviews.

Pregnancy and the period right after birth are risky for both a woman with lupus and her child. Systemic lupus erythematosus, or SLE, puts pregnant women at higher risk of infections, a high-blood-pressure condition known as preeclampsia, and death. A child is at higher risk of dying in the womb, being born prematurely, and dying after birth.

Women who receive proper counseling, and whom obstetricians, pediatricians and rheumatologists work with before, during and after pregnancy, have an 85-90 percent chance of a live birth, researchers said. But parents also worry about lupus’ impact on the child long term.

“Besides the impact of SLE [lupus] on the immediate pregnancy outcome, the question whether their disease will influence the long-term general health and development of their children is often raised by SLE patients who wish to conceive,” the researchers wrote.

To answer the question, the team analyzed 28 studies dealing with the physical, neurocognitive, psychiatric, and movement development of children born to mothers with lupus.

They found that 21.4 to 26 percent more of the children developed learning disorders than children born to mothers without lupus. In addition, 14.3 to 21.6 percent more children born to mothers with lupus had reading problems and dyslexia, especially boys.

Another finding was that autism was twice as prevalent in children whose mothers had lupus than in other children. In addition, the risk of speech disorders tended to be two to three times higher in children born to mothers with lupus, although researchers said the result was not considered statistically significant.

The analysis also indicated that lupus offspring may develop attention deficit and behavior disorders.  Different studies reported a different prevalence for the conditions, however.

There was no evidence that the anti-SSA antibodies associated with lupus affect a child’s growth or  neurodevelopment, or that they lead to attention, speech or behavioral disorders. But one high-quality study showed a significant link between the antibodies and the development of learning disorders among children born to a woman with lupus.

Studies showed no connection between a child’s being born to a mother with lupus and the child’s IQ and movement skills.

“SLE during pregnancy is a risk factor for long-term developmental problems in offspring, in particular learning disabilities (especially dyslexia in male [infants]), attention disorders, autism spectrum disorders and probably speech disorders,” researchers wrote.

They called for controlled studies with large samples of lupus offspring to assess the children’s development during childhood and adolescence. The studies should include a maternal profile, including information on a mother’s antibodies, disease activity, medication and pregnancy, the team said.