Juvenile Arthritis Awareness Month
That’s right, kids get arthritis. It is a common misconception that only “old” people are afflicted with arthritis. Nearly 300,000 children in America have been diagnosed with Juvenile Arthritis (JA). The form of arthritis that these kids experience is not the same as grandma’s aches and pains. These children suffer from various autoimmune forms of arthritis. Their body’s immune system is attacking their joints, causing swelling, stiffness and permanent damage. This condition is extremely serious; if left untreated it can result in loss of mobility, blindness and even death.
Not one known cause has been pinpointed for most forms of juvenile arthritis, there is no evidence to suggest that toxins, foods or allergies cause children to develop JA. Some research points toward a genetic predisposition to juvenile arthritis, which means the combination of genes a child receives from his or her parents may cause the onset of JA when triggered by other factors. The most important step in properly treating juvenile arthritis is getting an accurate diagnosis. The diagnostic process can be long and detailed. There is no single blood test that confirms any type of JA. In children, the key to diagnosis is a careful physical exam, along with a thorough medical history. Any specific tests a doctor may perform will depend upon the type of JA suspected.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for juvenile arthritis, although with early diagnosis and aggressive treatment, remission is possible. The goal of treatment is to relieve inflammation, control pain and improve the child’s quality of life. Most treatment plans involve a combination of medication, physical activity, eye care and healthy eating. An important part of JA treatment is teaching the child the importance of how to follow the treatment prescribed by the healthcare team. Self care also involves helping the child address the emotional and social effects of the disease. Self management encompasses the choices made each day to live well and stay healthy and happy.
While long-term outcomes for juvenile arthritis medications are promising, scientists are still unsure about the long-term effects of medication on child growth and development. One of the side effects of juvenile arthritis medication is a weakened immune system, leaving still-growing children vulnerable to other illnesses and exacerbating juvenile arthritis symptoms such as pain, stiffness, and swelling around the joints. Your doctor may recommend that your child work with a physical therapist to help keep joints flexible and maintain range of motion and muscle tone.
Arthritis in children, unfortunately, has a lengthy history. Physicians have been documenting cases of pain and inflammation for more than a century, dating back to the mid-1800s. Along with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, they also have described symptoms indicative of other types of rheumatic disease, including lupus and scleroderma. Scientists are looking for the possible causes of juvenile arthritis. They are studying genetic and environmental factors that they think are involved. They are also trying to improve current treatments and along with self care to find new medicines that will work better with fewer side effects.