Monday, July 14, 2014

What is Juvenile Arthritis?

Blog contributed by Kathleen
Zimmerman, MD
Pediatrician
It is estimated that about 300,000 children in the U.S. have some form of juvenile arthritis.  Most people have heard of Juvenile Rheumatoid arthritis, or JRA.  But there are other forms of arthritis as well, including Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis (JIA), which is the most common form in children.

Most forms of Juvenile Arthritis are autoimmune.  This means that the child’s immune system is attacking their healthy cells.  It is thought that this autoimmune attack may be triggered by a virus and in some cases children have a genetic risk if arthritis is in the family.

Arthritis in children can have different symptoms and these symptoms can come and go for long periods of time.  The most common symptom is constant joint swelling, joint pain, and stiffness.  This may be in one joint or in multiple joints.  Some children are limping or clumsy because of the joint pains.  The pain is often worse in the mornings.  Other symptoms may be high fevers or skin rashes that don’t have another cause.   Children may also have eye inflammation and growth problems.

There is not a single test for Juvenile Arthritis.  Your child’s doctor may suspect arthritis if they have the symptoms above and they do not have an explanation (no recent injury or recent illness) and also if the symptoms do not go away on their own.  If your child was suspected to have Juvenile arthritis they would need a thorough exam of the joints as well as bloodwork. Referral to a Rheumatologist (specialist in arthritis) is typically recommended to help with the diagnosis and treatment. 

Juvenile Arthritis is a chronic illness that comes and goes.  During a “flare”, children may need medication to help control their symptoms. Physical therapy is helpful as well.  If the pain is severe or difficult to treat, stronger medications that suppress the immune system are used to calm the symptoms down and allow the child to live a more normal life.  The goal is for the child to remain active and to have long periods of “remission”, where the symptoms are gone for months to years.   Children with juvenile arthritis may also have “silent” problems with the eyes or growth (without symptoms).  Therefore, it is also important to have regular eye exams and checkups even if they have no symptoms. 

Researchers are working on finding causes of Juvenile arthritis and also researching better medications with fewer side effects.  To learn more about Juvenile Arthritis and the most recent science on these diseases you can go the National Institute of Health site: www.niams.nih.gov and the Arthritis Foundation site: www.arthritis.org






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