Children born to mothers with Lupus are at twice the risk of developing autism spectrum disorders (ASD) than are those born to women without the disease, according to a new study.

Lupus, known in medical circles as systemic lupus erythematosus or SLE for short, is a chronic inflammatory disease that can affect a person’s skin, joints, kidneys, lungs, nervous system, and other organs. The most common symptoms include skin rashes, arthritis, fatigue, and fever. Lupus occurs most often in women; it typically develops when females are in their twenties and thirties, which is prime childbearing age. Many of these women worry how their disease will affect their children.

Evelyne Vinet, MD, FRCPC, assistant professor in the Department of Rheumatology at McGill University Health Centre, was lead investigator in the study. She and her cohorts used information gathered by the Offspring of Systemic Lupus Erythematosus mothers Registry, a large, Canadian, population-based cohort that includes all women who have had one or more hospitalizations for childbirth after lupus diagnosis between the years of 1989 and 2009. Dr. Vinet's team compared 719 children born to 509 mothers with lupus to 8,493 children born to 5,824 women without the disease. The average age for mothers in the study was just over 30 years. Researchers followed up with the offspring for just over nine years.

Dr. Vinet's team found children of mothers with Lupus showed more signs of autism spectrum disorders – 1.4 percent – than did the offspring of mothers without the disease at 0.6 percent. Furthermore, the researchers found these children were diagnosed with autism earlier than the children whose mothers did not have Lupus: kids whose moms had Lupus were an average of 3.8 years old at the time of diagnosis as compared to 5.7 years in children born to mothers without lupus.

Dr. Vinet presented the results at the American College of Rheumatology Annual Meeting in San Diego in October of 2013. She reported, "The findings from this study suggest that, although the absolute risk is relatively small, when compared to children from the general population, children born to women with lupus have a two-fold increased risk of autism spectrum disorders."

Source: American College of Rheumatology. "Children Whose Mothers Have Lupus Might be at Increased Risk of Autism Spectrum Disorders." NewsWise. 18 Oct 2013. Web. Retrieved 6 Nov 2013.