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Juvenile Arthritis: Helping Children Thrive

While a common misconception holds that only older individuals must cope with arthritis, nearly 300,000 children in America have been diagnosed with juvenile arthritis. It is important to note that these children suffer from autoimmune and inflammatory conditions that can develop in children ages 16 and younger.

Arthritis and other rheumatic diseases often are mistakenly associated with old age because osteoarthritis (the most common form of arthritis) occurs more often among elderly individuals. However, arthritis and other rheumatic diseases affect people of all ages and are more common in women than men, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A child’s immune system is not fully formed until about age 18, so an “autoimmune” form of arthritis is especially aggressive in children, compromising their ability to fight normal diseases and leaving them open to complications that may affect their eyes, bone growth and more, according to the Arthritis National Research Foundation.

The Types of Juvenile Arthritis

According to the Arthritis Foundation, there are seven main types of juvenile arthritis:

  • Juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA). Considered the most common form of arthritis, JIA includes six subtypes: oligoarthritis, polyarthritis, systemic, enthesitis-related, juvenile psoriatic arthritis or undifferentiated.
  • Juvenile dermatomyositis. An inflammatory disease, juvenile dermatomyositis causes muscle weakness and a skin rash on the eyelids and knuckles.
  • Juvenile lupus. Lupus is an autoimmune disease. The most common form is systemic lupus erythematosus, or SLE. Lupus can affect the joints, skin, kidneys, blood and other areas of the body.
  • Juvenile scleroderma. Scleroderma, which literally means “hard skin,” describes a group of conditions that causes the skin to tighten and harden.
  • Kawasaki disease. This disease causes blood-vessel inflammation that can lead to heart complications.
  • Mixed connective tissue disease. This disease may include features of arthritis, lupus dermatomyositis and scleroderma, and is associated with very high levels of a particular antinuclear antibody called anti-RNP.
  • Fibromyalgia. This chronic pain syndrome is an arthritis-related condition, which can cause stiffness and aching, along with fatigue, disrupted sleep and other symptoms. More common in girls, fibromyalgia is seldom diagnosed before puberty.

The most important step in properly treating juvenile arthritis is getting an accurate diagnosis, which can be a long and detailed process, according to the foundation. While there is no cure for juvenile arthritis, remission is possible with early diagnosis and aggressive treatment. The goal of treatment is to relieve inflammation, control pain and improve the child’s quality of life.

Growing Pains or Juvenile Arthritis? Know the Signs and Symptoms:

When a child complains of occasional aches and pains, they may be dismissed as “growing pains.” However, when symptoms like pain and stiffness occur, particularly in the morning or after a nap, it could be a sign of something far more serious.
The most common symptoms of juvenile arthritis are joint swelling, pain and persistent stiffness in the knees, hands or feet. Other signs include:

  • Limping in the morning because of a stiff knee
  • Excessive clumsiness
  • High fever
  • Skin rash
  • Swelling in lymph nodes

Contact your child’s pediatrician if he/she experiences these symptoms. For a referral to a Barnabas Health pediatrician, visit us online.