What Is Juvenile Arthritis?
Children can get arthritis just like adults. Arthritis is caused by inflammation of the joints. It causes pain, swelling, stiffness, and loss of motion.
Juvenile arthritis is the term used to describe arthritis in children. The most common type that children get is juvenile idiopathic arthritis (idiopathic means “from unknown causes”). There are other forms of arthritis affecting children, including juvenile rheumatoid arthritis.
Who Gets Juvenile Arthritis?
Juvenile arthritis affects children of all ages and ethnic backgrounds.
What Causes Juvenile Arthritis?
Juvenile arthritis is usually an autoimmune disorder. As a rule, the immune system helps fight off harmful bacteria and viruses. But in an autoimmune disorder, the immune system attacks some of the body’s healthy cells and tissues. Scientists don’t know why this happens or what causes the disorder. Some think it’s a two-step process in children: something in a child’s genes (passed from parents to children) makes the child more likely to get arthritis, and something like a virus then sets off the arthritis.
What Are the Symptoms and Signs of Juvenile Arthritis?
The most common symptoms of juvenile arthritis are joint swelling, pain, and stiffness that don’t go away. Usually it affects the knees, hands, and feet, and it’s worse in the morning or after a nap. Other signs include:
- Limping in the morning because of a stiff knee
- Excessive clumsiness
- High fever and skin rash
- Swelling in lymph nodes in the neck and other parts of the body.
Most children with arthritis have times when the symptoms get better or go away (remission) and other times when they get worse (flare).
Arthritis in children can cause eye inflammation and growth problems. It also can cause bones and joints to grow unevenly.
How Do Doctors Find Out if Your Child Has Juvenile Arthritis?
There is no easy way a doctor can tell if your child has juvenile arthritis. Doctors usually suspect arthritis when a child has constant joint pain or swelling, as well as skin rashes that can’t be explained and a fever along with swelling of lymph nodes or inflammation in the body’s organs. To be sure that it is juvenile arthritis; doctors depend on many things, which may include:
- Physical exam
- Family history
- Lab tests
How Is Juvenile Arthritis Treated?
Doctors who treat arthritis in children will try to make sure your child can remain physically active. They also try to make sure your child can stay involved in social activities and have an overall good quality of life. Doctors can prescribe treatments to reduce swelling, maintain joint movement, and relieve pain. They also try to prevent, identify, and treat problems that result from the arthritis. Most children with arthritis need a blend of treatments – some treatments include drugs, and others do not.
How Can You Help Your Child Live Well With Juvenile Arthritis?
Juvenile arthritis affects the whole family. It can strain your child’s ability to take part in social and after-school activities, and it can make schoolwork more difficult. Family members can help the child both physically and emotionally by doing the following:
- Get the best care possible.
- Learn as much as you can about your child’s disease and its treatment.
- Insist that your child take the treatment.
- Consider joining a support group.
- Treat your child as normally as possible.
- Encourage exercise and physical therapy for your child.
- Work closely with your child’s school.
- Talk with your child.
- Work with therapists or social workers.
Do Children With Juvenile Arthritis Have to Limit Activities?
Pain sometimes limits what children with juvenile arthritis can do. However, exercise is key to reducing the symptoms of arthritis and maintaining function and range of motion of the joints. Ask your health care provider for exercise guidelines. Most children with arthritis can take part in physical activities and certain sports when their symptoms are under control. Swimming is a good activity because it uses many joints and muscles without putting weight on the joints.
During a disease flare, your child’s doctor may advise your child to limit certain activities. It will depend on the joints involved. Once the flare is over, your child can return to his or her normal activities.