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Henoch-Schonlein purpura (HSP)

What is Henoch-Schönlein purpura?

Henoch-Schönlein (HSP) purpura causes blood vessels to get inflamed (irritated and swollen). This inflammation is called ‘vasculitis’. It usually affects the small blood vessels in the skin causing a rash that is called purpura. It can also affect blood vessels in the intestines and the kidneys.

The cause of HSP is unknown. It occurs most often after an upper respiratory infection, like a cold.

HSP occurs most often in children from 2 to 10 years of age, but it can occur in anyone. HSP itself is not contagious. Doctors don’t know how to prevent HSP yet.

What are the signs and symptoms?

  • Skin rash – the rash looks like small bruises or small reddish-purple spots. It’s usually on the buttocks, on the legs and around the elbows. Many children with HSP also have swelling over the backs of the feet and hands, and the scrotum (ball-sack) in boys.
  • Pain in the joints (such as the knees and ankles).
  • Stomach pain.
  • Blood in the stool (poo) or urine (pee), caused by the blood vessels in the bowel and the kidneys becoming inflamed. Serious kidney or bowel problems don’t happen very often, but they can occur.

What treatments are available?

There is no specific treatment for HSP, although some medicines can help with the symptoms. Fortunately, HSP usually gets better without any treatment.

Painkillers (such as paracetamol) can help with pain in the joints.

Usually, HSP gets better on its own and doesn’t cause lasting problems. On average, symptoms settle down within 4 to 6 weeks. About half of people who had HSP once will get it again.

A few people will have kidney damage because of HSP. Your doctor will want to check urine samples several times after the HSP goes away, to check for kidney problems.

When should you come back?

You will need to attend your GP after 1 week to give a sample of urine. They may arrange to see you again after that (at 4, 8 and 12 weeks).

Return to your GP or hospital if your child gets increasing stomach pains, very painful joint swellings, blood in the urine or if you are worried for any other reason.

What are the key points to remember about HSP?

  • Inflammation of the small blood vessels in the skin causing a rash
  • Can also affect blood vessels around the kidneys and intestines
  • Occurs most often in children from 2 to 10 years
  • Cause unknown
  • Painkillers such as paracetamol to help painful joints and general discomfort
  • Return to your doctor for increasing pain or if you are worried at all
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Please note: this is a generic information sheet relating to care at Sheffield Children’s NHS FT. These details may not reflect treatment at other hospitals. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professionals’ instructions. If this resource relates to medicines, please read it alongside the medicine manufacturer’s patient information leaflet. If this information has been translated into another language from English, efforts have been made to maintain accuracy, but there may still be some translation errors. If you are unsure about any of the guidance in this resource or have specific questions about how it relates to your child, always ask your healthcare professional for further advice.

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