Understanding the Surprisingly Common Condition of Juvenile Arthritis
"About one in every 1,000 children develops
some type of juvenile arthritis,”
says Julie Cramer, M.D.
When you think about arthritis, you probably imagine a middle-aged person in a lot of pain. However, adults aren’t the only ones who can develop the disease—kids can get it too.
In honor of Juvenile Arthritis Awareness Month, we’re going to take a look at the surprisingly common issue of juvenile arthritis, symptoms parents should look for and treatment options available to kids who suffer from the disease.
Over 300,000 children ages 16 and under live with juvenile arthritis (JA). Although arthritis is commonly thought of as a condition that affects only the joints, juvenile arthritis is known to affect the eyes, skin and gastrointestinal tract as well.
While there are about seven different types of JA, the most common is juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA), an autoimmune disease characterized by lethargy, pain and swelling in the affected joint(s). Common symptoms parents should look out for include pain, stiffness, swelling, fevers, rashes, eye problems (e.g. iritis, persistent eye redness, pain or blurred vision) or weight loss.
Although there is no known cause for juvenile arthritis, doctors believe there are a number of different factors at play, such as genetics and autoimmune diseases. Unfortunately, this means that there aren’t ways to prevent or cure JA. However, there are ways in which parents can help their child manage symptoms, improve his or her quality of life and possibly put the disease into remission.
“Juvenile arthritis no longer has to be a debilitating disease with early recognition and treatment. About one in every 1,000 children develops some type of juvenile arthritis,” said Julie Cramer, M.D., a pediatrician at Crozer-Keystone Health System. “Let your pediatrician know if your child develops limping, stiffness when awakening, inability to use an arm or leg, decreased activity level, persistent fever or joint swelling.”
While every treatment plan is designed specifically to meet an individual child’s needs, it often includes a combination of medication, physical activity, eye care (frequent visits to an ophthalmologist) and a healthy diet.
Currently, there are two types of medications available to children suffering from JA: those that relieve pain and inflammation and those that may potentially put the disease into remission and/or prevent serious joint damage. You and your child’s pediatrician will determine what is best for your child.
Although physical activity might seem like a bad recommendation for kids suffering from arthritis (as the disease leads to weakened muscles and limits physical endurance), it can actually have tremendous health benefits. Kids who exercise find that it can help relieve some of the symptoms of JA and increase muscle strength and endurance. Be sure to discuss with your child’s pediatrician to help find the one that’s right for his or her needs.
In many cases, juvenile arthritis can discourage or cause kids to eat less (joint pain can cause them to ignore their hunger pains or make it painful to eat), which can have a major impact on their health. Meeting with a registered dietician can help parents and their child find ways to work around the issue(s) to ensure he meets his daily nutritional needs.
If you’re a concerned parent of a child with juvenile arthritis, there are plenty of resources available to help you and your family as well. You can also visit the Juvenile Arthritis Alliance, part of The Arthritis Foundation. JA can be trying for the entire family, but that doesn’t mean you have to go through it alone.