Juvenile arthritis, also known as childhood arthritis, is a condition that affects many children all over the world. In the United States, more than 300,000 cases have been diagnosed. It can affect the quality of life, and the physical and mental well-being of the children.
What Is Juvenile Arthritis?
Juvenile arthritis or JA is a term used to describe the autoimmune and inflammatory conditions (pediatric rheumatic disease) that can develop in children below the age of 16. Arthritis means joint inflammation. It refers to a group of diseases which cause pain, swelling, and stiffness in the joints. Arthritis can have an effect on other structures in the body such as tendons, ligaments, muscles, and bones.
What Causes Juvenile Arthritis?
As of now, it is still not very clear what causes juvenile arthritis. Doctors believe that the condition is due to an autoimmune disorder. In some cases, the white blood cells cannot distinguish the difference between healthy cells and harmful bacteria or viruses.
The immune system begins to release chemicals in the body to destroy the invading microorganisms, but in rare cases, it also damages healthy cells and tissues. It is believed that genetics or family history can play a role in acquiring the disease. This means that a genetic predisposition may cause the onset of juvenile arthritis when triggered by other factors.
Symptoms of Juvenile Arthritis
The following are the most common symptoms of juvenile arthritis:
- Pain – Children with juvenile arthritis may experience pain right after waking up in the morning or after a nap. A child may complain of pain in the knees, feet, hands, neck, or jaw. The pain may lessen as the day progresses.
- Swelling – Inflammation and redness of the skin above the affected joints are common symptoms of childhood arthritis. The swelling can occur in the hands, knees, and feet and may last for several days.
- Stiffness – Joint stiffness is usually experienced by a child with juvenile arthritis, especially in the morning. After waking up, you may notice that the child is limping because of a sore knee. Movement can be painful and physical activities may be affected.
- Fever – A child with juvenile arthritis may have a fever accompanied by tiredness or fatigue. The fever may come on suddenly and then clear up after a short time.
- Weight loss – If your child has no appetite, does not want to eat, and lacks energy most of the time, it may be a possible symptom of childhood arthritis. Aside from joint pain and inflammation, a child with JA can also lose weight.
- Rashes – Some types of JA cause rashes on the skin. Rheumatic arthritis can cause rashes on the knuckles, arms, and legs.
Types of Juvenile Arthritis
The term used to describe the different types of arthritis in children is JIA or Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis.
- Oligoarticular JIA – This affects about 50 percent of all children who develop juvenile Wrists and knees are the most common joints that are affected by this type of JIA. Children who are younger than seven when they had Oligoarticular JIA are more likely to recover from the disease, however, they have a risk of developing iritis (eye inflammation). The iritis can last even after the arthritis subsides, and can lead to vision loss. Older children who develop this type of arthritis are more than likely to carry the symptoms into adulthood.
- Systemic Onset JIA – This type of juvenile arthritis affects about 10 percent of children diagnosed with JIA. It affects the whole body and can be accompanied by fever. The fever is usually worse in the evening. Aside from fever, a child suffering from this type of JIA appears pale and develops a Systemic onset JIA also causes internal organ inflammation, usually in the spleen. The lymph nodes can become enlarged. Doctors may also discover anemia and elevated white blood cell counts. Joint inflammation can take months or years to develop after the fever begins. However, once arthritis sets in, it can last long after the fever and other symptoms disappear. Eventually, the child may have multiple joints affected by stiffness, pain, and swelling.
- Polyarticular JIA – A blood test is performed in cases of Polyarticular JIA. One group tests Positive Rheumatoid Factor (RF+); the other group’s test results come back as Negative Rheumatoid Factor (RF-). This type of childhood arthritis can begin at any age and affects five or more joints. Girls are more commonly affected than boys. Fever is a common symptom of Polyarticular JA. Bumps and nodules can also develop in areas of the body which receive a lot of pressure from leaning or sitting. Polyarticular JIA affects weight-bearing joints like the hips, knees, ankles, feet, and the small joints of the
- Enthesitis-related Arthritis (ERA) – Also known as Spondyloarthritis, it affects about 15 percent of children diagnosed with JIA. ERA primarily affects the lower extremities and spine. It usually occurs in children aged 8 to 15 years. Children with ERA often experience joint pain, back pain, and stiffness, but it might not be accompanied with noticeable In rare cases, it can cause inflammatory bowel disorders such as Crohn’s Disease or Ulcerative Colitis.
- Psoriatic Arthritis – This form of arthritis can affect children with psoriasis. Psoriasis causes scales to form on top of red patches of skin. Often, children are diagnosed with psoriasis first, even though the joint pain can start before the skin issues occur. Any part of the body may be affected, even toenails and Symptoms include joint pain, stiffness, and swelling. If not treated, this type of arthritis can become disabling.
- Undifferentiated JIA – This is the term given when a child’s symptoms cannot be directly linked to the types of JIA listed above or doesn’t fit into any of the above-listed categories.
Juvenile Arthritis Treatment
- Non-steroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs – NSAIDs reduce pain and swelling associated with juvenile arthritis. These medications work by blocking COX enzymes that produce prostaglandins – which causes pain, inflammation, and fever. Prolonged use of NSAIDs can lead to side-effects such as stomach ulcers, kidney problems, and high blood pressure.
- Corticosteroids – A doctor can inject a corticosteroid directly into the joint to relieve pain and inflammation. The effects can last for many months or even a year. The maximum number of injections in a year is three to avoid potential complications.
- Disease-modifying Anti-rheumatic Drugs – Also known as DMARDs, these drugs slow down the progression of rheumatoid arthritis by targeting certain components of the immune system. Long-term use may cause undesirable side-effects such as liver damage, upset stomach, and increased risk of having lymphoma.
- Physical therapy – To prevent joint rigidity and deformities, a child can greatly benefit from physical therapy. A carefully planned exercise program can increase the range of motion of the joints and improve mobility.
- Topical pain creams – Arthritis pain and inflammation can be relieved by using topical pain creams. Real Time Pain Relief is made from natural ingredients and provides soothing relief for aching joints associated with arthritis.
Juvenile arthritis, or arthritis affecting children below 16 years old, causes pain, swelling, and stiffness in the joints. The definitive cause is still unknown, but genetics or family history may have a role in acquiring the disease. Various treatments for juvenile arthritis include NSAIDs, corticosteroids, DMARDs, physical therapy, and topical pain creams.