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Henoch-Schonlein purpura

Medically reviewed by Drugs.com. Last updated on Sep 11, 2023.

Overview

Henoch-Schonlein purpura (also known as IgA vasculitis) is a disorder that causes the small blood vessels in your skin, joints, intestines and kidneys to become inflamed and bleed.

The most striking feature of this form of vasculitis is a purplish rash, typically on the lower legs and buttocks. Henoch-Schonlein purpura can also cause abdominal pain and aching joints. Rarely, serious kidney damage can occur.

Henoch-Schonlein purpura can affect anyone, but it's most common in children under 10. The condition usually improves on its own. Medical care is generally needed if the disorder affects the kidneys.

Henoch-Schonlein purpura

Henoch-Schonlein purpura is an inflammation of the small blood vessels of the skin, joints, bowels and kidneys. When blood vessels get inflamed, they can bleed into the skin, causing a reddish-purple rash (purpura).

Symptoms

The four main characteristics of Henoch-Schonlein purpura include:

When to see a doctor

See your doctor if you have Henoch-Schonlein purpura and it's causing serious problems with your digestive tract.

If your child develops the rash associated with this condition, see your doctor as soon as possible.

Causes

In Henoch-Schonlein purpura, some of the body's small blood vessels become inflamed, which can cause bleeding in the skin, abdomen and kidneys. It's not clear why this initial inflammation develops. It may be the result of the immune system responding inappropriately to certain triggers.

Nearly half the people who have Henoch-Schonlein purpura developed it after an upper respiratory infection, such as a cold. Other triggers include chickenpox, strep throat, measles, hepatitis, certain medications, food, insect bites and exposure to cold weather.

Risk factors

Factors that increase the risk of developing Henoch-Schonlein purpura include:

Complications

For most people, symptoms improve within a month, leaving no lasting problems. But recurrences are fairly common.

Complications associated with Henoch-Schonlein purpura include:

Diagnosis

Your doctor will be able to diagnose the condition as Henoch-Schonlein purpura if the classic rash, joint pain and digestive tract symptoms are present. If one of these signs and symptoms is missing, your doctor may suggest one or more of the following tests.

Lab tests

No single laboratory test can confirm Henoch-Schonlein purpura, but certain tests can help rule out other diseases and make a diagnosis of Henoch-Schonlein seem likely. They may include:

Biopsies

People who have Henoch-Schonlein purpura often have deposits of a certain protein, IgA (immunoglobulin A), on the affected organ. Your doctor may take a small sample of skin so that it can be tested in a lab. In cases of severe kidney involvement, your doctor may suggest a kidney biopsy to help guide treatment decisions.

Imaging tests

Your doctor may recommend an ultrasound to rule out other causes of abdominal pain and to check for possible complications, such as a bowel obstruction.

Treatment

Henoch-Schonlein purpura usually goes away on its own within a month with no lasting ill effects. Rest, plenty of fluids and over-the-counter pain relievers may help with symptoms.

Medications

Corticosteroids, such as prednisone, may help shorten the time and intensity of joint and abdominal pain. Because these drugs can have serious side effects, discuss the risks and benefits of using them with your doctor.

Surgery

If a section of the bowel has folded in on itself or ruptured, surgery may be needed.

Self care

Home care focuses on keeping people with mild Henoch-Schonlein purpura comfortable while the disease runs its course. Rest, plenty of fluids and over-the-counter pain relievers may help.

Preparing for your appointment

You'll likely first see your family doctor or your child's pediatrician for this condition. You may later be referred to a kidney specialist (nephrologist) if kidney complications develop. Here's some information that may help you get ready for your appointment.

What you can do

Before your appointment, write answers to the following questions:

Questions you may want to ask your doctor include:

What to expect from your doctor

Your doctor is likely to ask a number of questions, such as:

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