When you think about arthritis and its associated swelling and joint pain, you likely relate the problem primarily with the elderly. However, statistics are clear it is not just the oldest (and wisest) among us who suffer from arthritis; there’s a whole range of problems under the Juvenile Arthritis (JA) umbrella negatively impacting the lives of kids, according to the Arthritis Foundation.
July is Juvenile Arthritis Awareness Month, a month dedicated to increase awareness about the early signs and symptoms of juvenile arthritis and to increase the focus and expand resources for the fight against JA. The campaign was initiated by the Arthritis Foundation and targets a condition that currently affects 300 000 children nationwide, making it one of the most common childhood diseases in the US.
The word “arthritis” means joint inflammation in Latin, but juvenile arthritis can impact eyes, skin and the gastrointestinal tract. The disorder takes on a large variety of forms, and researchers and doctors alike are working to better understand the key differences and how varying approaches can help.
Juvenile arthritis (JA) is not a disease in itself. 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.
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.
Three classifications of juvenile arthritis exist: juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (JRA), juvenile chronic arthritis (JCA), and juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA), of which, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis is the most common. The classification is made based on symptoms, number of joints involved and the presence of antibodies in the blood
According to the Arthritis Foundation, JA can do more than cause joint discomfort in young people. While many types of JA share commonalities like swelling, “each type of JA is distinct and has its own special concerns and symptoms”, it notes.
For example, some versions of JA don’t fall under the classic definition of arthritis at all; the problem can affect the eyes, skin (Juvenile dermatomyositis) and digestive system as well, according to the foundation.
While some children may not express any pain from the disease, their actions can speak for themselves. The National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases notes that JA often targets the knees and feet, creating a telltale limp in junior’s walk.
The source also notes that the problem is usually worse first thing in the morning or after a nap, when the joints have a chance to stiffen. Keep an eye out for any strange walking patterns of your child, especially if you can’t recall any recent accidents that would contribute to the limping.
While many diseases are passed down from one parent or both, The National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases notes that it’s “very rare” for more than one family member to have JA.
That being said, children who have another family member who has JA are at “slightly increased” risk of developing the problem. Since JA is largely an autoimmune disease (when you immune system mistakenly attacks healthy cells), families with a history of autoimmune diseases such as Multiple Sclerosis or Thyroid inflammation may be at higher risk.
According to HealthCentral.com, Juvenile Arthritis affects more girls than boys, and is likely to develop from ages 2 to 4 or during the adolescent/teen years (but under the age of 16).
While there doesn’t seem to be any solid statistics for girls versus boys when it comes to JA cases, KidsGetArthritisToo.org notes that the most common form of JA is mild oligoarthritis (affecting fewer than five joints) that is usually found in girls aged 8-or younger.
Apparently arthritis and other rheumatic conditions (collectively known as AORC) in youth has accounted for deaths in the U.S., according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The source notes that between 1979 and 1998, there were roughly 50 deaths per year (of children younger than 15) attributed to the diseases.
The slightly better news is that during this roughly 20-year period, the death rate related to AORC diseases fell 25-percent from 1.2 deaths per million to 0.9 deaths per million, according to the CDC. These deaths are more common among females than males, according to HealthLine.com, which paints a somewhat bleaker picture regarding JA mortality rates.
At this moment, there is no cure for juvenile arthritis. The custom approach to the disorder is to control pain levels, reduce inflammation and maintain mobility, while in more extreme cases surgery is the only possible solution to prevent further joint damage. Many treatment plans are based on proper medication, therapeutically physical activities, eye care and healthy eating.
The treatments used for Juvenile Arthritis focus on improving quality of life for young people. In some cases, pain medication is the solution, but in some cases anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) are used. Doctors may also prescribe DMARDs, a family of drugs that are designed to slow the progression of the juvenile arthritis. Chemotherapy drugs have also been used to battle JA, although in lower doses than when treating cancer patients.
Physical therapy may also be part of the treatment plan to help maintain your child’s flexibility and maintain muscle tone. Probably the most important component of any plan is the way in which all measures are customized for a child’s daily schedule in order to affect the quality of life as little as possible.
No known cause has been pinpointed for most forms of juvenile arthritis, nor is there evidence to suggest that toxins, foods or allergies cause children to develop JA. Some research points toward a genetic predisposition to juvenile arthritis, which means the combination of genes a child receives from his or her parents may cause the onset of JA when triggered by other factors.
Each of the different types of JA have their own set of signs and symptoms. You can read more specifics about the diseases by following the links above, and by visiting the Arthritis Foundation’s website dedicated to pediatric rheumatic diseases, KidsGetArthritisToo.
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.
An important part of JA treatment is teaching chidlren the importance of following the treatment prescribed by their 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.
You’ll probably first bring your symptoms to the attention of your family doctor, who may refer you to a rheumatologist — a doctor specializing in the treatment of arthritis and other diseases of the joints, muscles and bone. Because JA can affect many organ systems, you may need to see a variety of medical specialists.
To get the right help, find a rheumatologist or other physician who knows how hard it is to endure a disease so few understand and can truly help. To find a healthcare professional, use HealthLynked. It is a first of its kind medical network built as a social ecosystem with a higher purpose – improving healthcare. Go to HealthLynked.com to learn more, sign up for free, connect with your doctor, find a new doctor, and securely store and share your health information. Download our HealthLynked app available on Apple and Android devices.
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