Neonatal lupus is not true lupus. It is a rare condition associated with anti-SSA/Ro and/or anti-SSB/La antibodies from the mother that affect the fetus. At birth, the baby may have a skin rash, liver problems, or low blood cell counts, but these symptoms typically disappear completely after six months with no lasting effects.
The most serious symptom is congenital heart block, which causes a slow heartbeat. Although very rare, newborns of women with lupus are at greater risk for developing this potentially life-threatening complication. Congenital heart block is usually detected when the fetus is between 18 and 24 weeks old. The condition does not disappear, and affected infants will eventually need a pacemaker.
With proper testing, physicians can now identify most at-risk mothers, and the infant can be treated at or before birth. Most infants of mothers with lupus are entirely healthy.
Dr. Jill Buyon of the New York University School of Medicine is a leading authority on this complication of lupus. Dr. Buyon discusses her life-long effort to study this complication and shares what has been learned and the next steps in the study of neonatal lupus. (8 min)