I. Definition:

Henoch-Schonlein Purpura is a disease that most people have never heard of and almost no-one can pronounce, which has left it on the outer edges of medical discovery. For those who suffer from it, the reality can be annoying, sometimes painful and, in rare cases, lead to serious complications. All of this means that it should not be taken lightly and yet we still see very little information about it nor have there been a lot advances in treatment.

It is an autoimmune disease that was named after two German scientists who first documented its characteristics in the 19th century. It involves inflammation of the blood vessels that results in purplish rash-like spots on the legs, buttocks and arms called purpura. Occasionally the rash will also occur on the torso and face. The rash can be accompanied by other symptoms including joint pain, intestinal pain and kidney infection.

II. Causes & Symptoms:

The disease occurs most commonly in children between the ages of 2 and 6 and more often in boys than girls. It can also occur, less commonly, in adults. In its adult form, the kidney complications can be more serious, even occasionally leading to renal failure. There may also be bowel blockage that occurs and will require surgical repair. In most cases, however, symptoms are more mild and will spontaneously subside on their own.

Little is known about the specific causes of Henoch-Schonlein Purpura but many of the children who develop it will do so directly after an upper respiratory infection, leading researchers and doctors to believe there is some connection between the two. There are other possible causes which may contribute to the development of HSP and can also influence the severity of symptoms. Recent research has detected a connection between occurrence of HSP and an underlying chemical imbalance.

The possible causes of HSP include various bacterial infections such as Streptococcus, Adenovirus and Epstein-Barr, among others. Children who have received vaccinations for typhoid, measles, yellow fever and cholera seem to be more prone to developing HSP. The disease has also been connected to taking certain medications including penicillin, erythromycin, quinine and ampicillin. In rare cases, food allergens and insect bites can trigger a bout of HSP, particularly in children.

III. Treatment:

Unfortunately, the area of most concern in relation to Henoch-Schonlein Purpura is also the one where the least amount of information exists and that is treatment. In most cases, symptoms will go away on their own after several weeks and no active treatment is necessary beyond bed rest. If abdominal pain or joint pain becomes severe, medications can be prescribed to help ease symptoms. Anti-inflammatory drugs in particular can help to relieve joint pain.

There have been several recent studies performed to help determine which medications would be most effective. These studies are so new that the results have not yet been thoroughly documented, but they involved such subjects as whether steroid or non-steroid based medications are preferable. There have also been some inroads into the use of holistic therapies to treat HSP and other autoimmune diseases, aimed specifically at correcting the underlying chemical imbalance thought to be at its core.

While the cause of Henoch-Schonlein Purpura remains in question, modern medicine continues to address its symptoms and offer solutions for HSP sufferers. In time, researchers hope to provide the answers that will help to unravel the mystery of HSP.