When people hear the word “arthritis,” they tend to have an image of their head of someone who has lived a long life, whose joints are stiff and swollen. But it’s important to understand that this is a common misconception, as more than 300,000 children in the United States have been diagnosed with juvenile arthritis.
Pain from juvenile arthritis can impact all aspects of a child’s life, including simple activities of daily living such as turning doorknobs or holding a pencil or toothbrush. It can also affect their ability to participate in a previously enjoyed sport. As one can imagine, this can take a toll, not only physically, but also on the emotional health of these children and their families. July is Juvenile Arthritis Month – the perfect opportunity to share some facts and information on this disease that affects thousands of children and teens.
Juvenile arthritis is an autoimmune disease
Juvenile arthritis occurs when the immune system attacks a child’s healthy joint tissue instead of viruses and germs. It causes joint pain, swelling, warmth, stiffness and loss of motion.
Juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA) is the most common type of chronic arthritis that affects children
JIA typically causes joint pain and inflammation in the hands, knees, ankles, elbows and/or wrists, but can affect other body parts, too.
There are multiple subtypes of JIA, and each has specific symptoms as well as different treatments. It is also possible that a child may start off with one type of JIA and have evolution of another over time.
There is no cure for juvenile arthritis, but with early diagnosis and aggressive treatment, it’s possible for a child to experience little or no symptoms.
Treatment depends on the type of juvenile arthritis and the severity of the symptoms, but usually includes a mix of medications and physical therapy.
There are many great treatments now available and ongoing research to further develop options.
Goals for the treatment of juvenile arthritis include:
- Slowing down or stopping inflammation and prevent disease progression
- Relieving symptoms, controlling pain and improving quality of life
- Preventing or avoiding joint and organ damage
- Preserving joint function and mobility for adulthood
- Reducing the long-term health effects*
*treatment goals from the Arthritis Foundation
With proper treatment and programs, these youth are able to get back to living their lives. This is why an early diagnosis, aggressive treatment and strong support systems are so important.
About the Author
Board certified by the American Board of Pediatrics and fellowship-trained, Dr. Reshma Patel joined Valley Children’s in September 2016 as a pediatric rheumatologist. Her special clinical interests include sports and exercise medicine along with various pediatric rheumatic conditions such as systemic lupus erythematosus, juvenile idiopathic arthritis, scleroderma, vasculitis, juvenile dermatomyositis, idiopathic uveitis and several other autoimmune conditions.