Trusted medical advice from the
American Academy of Family Physicians.

Henoch-Schönlein Purpura

What is Henoch-Schönlein purpura?

Henoch-Schönlein purpura (HSP) is a rare disease that causes the blood vessels in your skin to become irritated and swollen. This inflammation is called vasculitis. When the blood vessels bleed, you get a rash called purpura. HSP can affect blood vessels in the bowel and the kidneys as well.

Symptoms of Henoch-Schönlein purpura

HSP causes a skin rash called purpura. It looks like small bruises or reddish-purple spots. The rash can occur on your buttocks, around your elbows, or on your legs and feet. In addition to the rash, HSP can cause:

  • Purple spots on the skin
  • Joint pain
  • Stomach pain
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Headache
  • Bloody diarrhea
  • Abnormal urine
  • Swelling and pain in the scrotum of boys

Possible complications include:

  • Internal bleeding
  • Intestinal blockage
  • Kidney problems

HSP symptoms usually last about 4 to 6 weeks. If the blood vessels in your bowel and the kidneys get inflamed, you may bleed when you have a bowel movement or urinate. Serious kidney problems do not happen often but can occur. If you or your child has symptoms of HSP, see your doctor. In rare cases, an abnormal folding of your bowel called intussusception can occur. This creates a blockage in your intestines that may need surgery.

What causes Henoch-Schönlein purpura?

The exact cause of HSP is unknown. Experts believe a person’s body develops excessive inflammation directed at certain blood vessels in the body. It could be triggered by a bacterial or viral infection, such as an upper respiratory infection. Allergic reactions to medicines, vaccinations, food, or insect bites could cause it. Exposure to chemicals or cold weather is another possible trigger. You may catch an infection from someone that caused HSP, but HSP itself isn’t contagious.

How is Henoch-Schönlein purpura diagnosed?

Your doctor will do a physical exam and review your symptoms. HSP can be diagnosed if you have two or more symptoms. The doctor may do a skin biopsy and/or blood and urine test. They also can do additional tests to rule out other conditions.

Can Henoch-Schönlein purpura be prevented or avoided?

Doctors do not know how to prevent HSP. The disease is more common in boys than in girls. Children 2 to 11 years of age are more likely to be affected, but adults can get it too.

Henoch-Schönlein purpura treatment

There is no specific treatment for HSP. Your doctor can prescribe medicine to help you feel better. Antibiotics can treat a bacterial infection that may have triggered the disease. HSP often goes away without treatment. Anti-inflammatory medicines, such as ibuprofen or naproxen help with swelling and joint pain. Steroids, such as prednisone, can help treat severe joint and stomach pain.

Living with Henoch-Schönlein purpura

Usually, HSP does not cause lasting problems and gets better on its own. About half of people who have HSP once will get it again. In serious cases, long-term kidney damage is possible. Your doctor may want to do routine urine samples to check for kidney problems. Be sure to see your doctor regularly during this time.

Questions to ask your doctor

  • What is the likely cause of HSP?
  • What medicines can I take to treat my symptoms?
  • What is my risk of getting HSP again? Is there anything I can do to prevent it?
  • Am I at risk for kidney damage? What are the symptoms of kidney damage?
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