Arthritis is a disease that can affect people of all ages, including children. Approximately 350 million people worldwide have been diagnosed with arthritis, including 40 million people in the United States alone. According to the Arthritis Foundation, 300,000 of those Americans are children who are 16 and under.
Juvenile arthritis is a broad term used to define a cluster of autoimmune and inflammatory conditions, or pediatric rheumatic diseases, that children can develop. In these types of diseases, the tissue that lines the inside of joints, called synovium, is inflamed or swollen.
Many types of juvenile arthritis exist, including juvenile idiopathic arthritis, juvenile dermatomyositis, juvenile lupus, juvenile scleroderma, Kawasaki disease, mixed connective tissue disease and fibromyalgia. Though many of these conditions may have similar symptoms, each type of juvenile arthritis is distinct. Some forms affect only certain areas of the body, such as the trunk, or areas where tendons attach to bones. Several forms also affect the skin and eyes.
Juvenile arthritis has no known cause. However, it is helpful to know the different types of juvenile arthritis that exist, and to check if your child shows any signs or symptoms. It is believed that JA may be related to genetics, certain infections, and environmental triggers.
Children suffering from JA may have pain in their joints or muscles, stiffness, swelling or redness of the skin in areas surrounding a joint, frequent fevers, chronic redness of the eye or blurred vision, skin rashes and a lack of appetite or weight loss.
Since JA can have a long-term effect on a child throughout their lives, it’s vital to have them examined properly and to obtain an accurate diagnosis from their pediatrician. This may include physical examinations, lab tests and X-rays. Specific tests performed will depend upon the type of JA suspected.
There are numerous treatment options for those diagnosed with JA, though there is no cure. Remission is possible with early diagnosis and aggressive treatment. The goal of treatment is to relieve inflammation and control pain to improve quality of life. Pediatricians can prescribe medication that will help reduce swelling and joint pain, and maintain movement in joints.
It is recommended that children with juvenile arthritis also remain physically active. Depending on the severity, they may also see dietitians, physical therapists and rheumatology specialists.
A diagnosis of JA can affect the entire family, a child’s social life and after-school activities, and can put a strain on their school work. Parents and guardians of children who are diagnosed with juvenile arthritis are encouraged to educate themselves on the disease.
If you have a child who is showing symptoms of juvenile arthritis, contact your physician to determine if testing is necessary, and what the best treatment option may be.
Dr. Jessica Pennington practices family medicine with KentuckyOne Health Primary Care Associates.