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Henoch-Schönlein purpura in adulthood and childhood: two different expressions of the same syndrome.

OBJECTIVE: To assess the possible differences between children (< or = 20 years) and adults (> 20 years) with Henoch-Schönlein purpura (HSP).

METHODS: A retrospective study of an unselected population of patients with HSP who presented to our teaching hospital between 1975 and 1994. Patients were classified as having HSP according to the criteria proposed by Michel et al.

RESULTS: Following the above-mentioned criteria, 162 white patients (113 male and 49 female) were classified as having HSP; 46 of the patients were adults (mean +/- SD age 53.2 +/- 16.9 years) and 116 were children (6.9 +/- 3.1 years). We were unable to identify any precipitating event in 72% of the adults and 66% of the children. The frequency of previous drug treatment, primarily antibiotics or analgesics, was similar in both groups, whereas previous upper respiratory tract infection was more frequent among the children (P < 0.02). At symptom onset, cutaneous lesions were the main clinical manifestation in both groups. However, adults had a lower frequency of abdominal pain (P < 0.008) and fever (P < 0.01), and a higher frequency of joint symptoms (P < 0.001). During the clinical course, adults had more frequent (P < 0.001) and severe renal involvement. An increased erythrocyte sedimentation rate was also more frequent in the adults (P < 0.001). Adults required more aggressive therapy, consisting of steroids (P < 0.002) and/or cytotoxic agents (P < 0.001). The outcome was relatively good in both age groups, with complete recovery in 107 children (93.9%) and in 33 adults (89.2%) after a mean +/- SD followup of 19.4 +/- 27.7 (median 12) and 21.8 +/- 33.5 (median 15) months, respectively.

CONCLUSION: In adulthood, HSP, as defined by the criteria proposed by Michel et al, represents a more severe clinical syndrome, with a higher frequency of renal involvement. However, the final outcome of HSP is equally good in patients of both age groups.

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