Understanding Juvenile Arthritis

Understanding Juvenile Arthritis

Nearly 300,000 children in America have arthritis, yet most people don’t know that kids get arthritis. Many parents write off swollen joints and fever as a flu bug, or think that a sudden rash might have occurred from an allergic reaction. The symptoms might even recede slightly before showing up again, sometimes delaying diagnosis for quite some time. After all, who expects a small child to have arthritis?

Also known as pediatric rheumatic disease, JA is an umbrella term used to describe the many autoimmune and inflammatory conditions or pediatric rheumatic diseases that can develop in children under the age of 16.

The Arthritis Foundation reports that although the various types of juvenile arthritis share many common symptoms, like pain, joint swelling, redness and warmth, each type of JA is distinct and has its own special concerns and symptoms. Some types of juvenile arthritis affect the musculoskeletal system, but joint symptoms may be minor or nonexistent. Juvenile arthritis can also involve the eyes, skin, muscles and gastrointestinal tract.

A child’s immune system is not fully formed until about age 18; so an “autoimmune” form of arthritis is especially aggressive in children, compromising their ability to fight normal diseases and leaving them open to complications that may affect their eyes, bone growth, etc.

SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS OF JUVENILE ARTHRITIS

  • Joint pain
  • Swelling
  • Fever
  • Stiffness
  • Rash
  • Fatigue (tiredness)
  • Loss of appetite
  • Inflammation of the eye
  • Difficulty with daily living activities such as walking, dressing, and playing

The most important step in properly treating juvenile arthritis is getting an accurate diagnosis. The diagnostic process can be long and detailed. There is no single blood test that confirms any type of JA. In children, the key to diagnosis is a careful physical exam, along with a thorough medical history. Any specific tests a doctor may perform will depend upon the type of JA suspected.

Juvenile Arthritis Treatment

Unfortunately, there is no cure for juvenile arthritis, although with early diagnosis and aggressive treatment, remission is possible. The goal of treatment is to relieve inflammation, control pain and improve the child’s quality of life. Most treatment plans involve a combination of medication, physical activity, eye care and healthy eating.

An important part of JA treatment is teaching the child the importance of how to follow the treatment prescribed by the healthcare team. Self care also involves helping the child address the emotional and social effects of the disease. Self management encompasses the choices made each day to live well and stay healthy and happy.

Types of Juvenile Arthritis (from the Arthritis Foundation)

  • Juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA). Considered the most common form of arthritis, JIA includes six subtypes: oligoarthritis, polyarthritis, systemic, enthesitis-related, juvenile psoriatic arthritis or undifferentiated. 
  • Juvenile dermatomyositis. An inflammatory disease, juvenile dermatomyositis causes muscle weakness and a skin rash on the eyelids and knuckles. 
  • Juvenile lupus. Lupus is an autoimmune disease. The most common form is systemic lupus erythematosus, or SLE. Lupus can affect the joints, skin, kidneys, blood and other areas of the body. 
  • Juvenile scleroderma. Scleroderma, which literally means “hard skin,” describes a group of conditions that causes the skin to tighten and harden.
  • Kawasaki disease. This disease causes blood-vessel inflammation that can lead to heart complications. 
  • Mixed connective tissue disease. This disease may include features of arthritis, lupus dermatomyositis and scleroderma, and is associated with very high levels of a particular antinuclear antibody called anti-RNP. 
  • FibromyalgiaThis chronic pain syndrome is an arthritis-related condition, which can cause stiffness and aching, along with fatigue, disrupted sleep and other symptoms. More common in girls, fibromyalgia is seldom diagnosed before puberty. 

Organizations such as the Arthritis National Research Foundation  has funded arthritis research to understand the causes, prevention and development of new treatments for osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, juvenile arthritis and other autoimmune diseases.

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