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While there's no cure for the vast majority of autoimmune diseases, doctors aim to do far better than just manage your child's symptoms. Yes, they will work to immediately relieve things like soreness and stiffness, and restore important substances to your child's body that the disease may be taking away (like insulin, in type 1 diabetes). But the big goals are to quench the inflammation of the autoimmune reaction—to keep it from doing further damage—and to “reset” the immune system so that it will work normally on its own.
Autoimmune illnesses don't tend to be “wait and see” conditions, where doctors might start with a mild medication and ramp up to stronger therapies only if that doesn't work. Instead, doctors often favor aggressive upfront treatment with an array of drugs (some of which have significant side effects, which your doctor will discuss with you in detail). Therapies commonly prescribed for autoimmune disease include:
Depending on your child's autoimmune disease, she may need other kinds of medical treatment, such as:
plasmapheresis, a process that removes plasma—the part of the blood that carries antibodies—from a patient's blood. Because it removes good antibodies along with the bad, however, it leaves the immune system less able to fight off sickness and infection. That's why doctors typically recommend plasmapheresis only for the most serious autoimmune diseases.
surgery, to deal with certain complications of autoimmune disease: joint damage in juvenile idiopathic arthritis, for example, or bowel obstruction in Crohn's disease
Though essential, medication is just one part of your child's treatment program. Most kids with autoimmune diseases also require physical and occupational therapy, to increase their mobility and muscle strength and to learn ways to make day-to-day activities easier on their bodies. And because chronic illnesses like these can be mentally and emotionally tough to deal with, psychotherapy or counseling can be valuable in helping kids keep the positive outlook they need to “beat” their disease.
We understand that you may have a lot of questions when your child is diagnosed with an autoimmune disease. How will it affect my child's life? What do we do next? We've tried to provide some answers to those questions here, but there are also a number of other resources to help you and your family in dealing with your child's unique illness, such as:
In addition, there are many groups that help connect and educate people across the country who are coping with autoimmune diseases. Your doctor may be able to recommend which ones are best for your child's specific illness, but in general, three of the most high-profile groups are:
We are grateful to have been ranked #1 on U.S. News & World Report's list of the best children's hospitals in the nation for the third year in a row, an honor we could not have achieved without the patients and families who inspire us to do our very best for them. Thanks to you, Boston Children's is a place where we can write the greatest children's stories ever told.”