Juvenile Arthritis Awareness Month

The month of July has been dedicated to spreading the awareness of an uncommon disease that strikes children — juvenile arthritis. When you think of arthritis, you probably think about older people who develop aches and pains in their joints, but that isn’t the only kind of arthritis there is. Around 300,000 children in the U.S. have juvenile arthritis, an autoimmune disease in which the child’s immune system mistakenly targets and attacks healthy tissue. There are nine different kinds of juvenile idiopathic arthritis (the most common type of juvenile arthritis), each with their own particular symptoms, treatments and prognosis.

Children with juvenile arthritis often have similar symptoms, but there really is no single symptom that tells anyone with absolute certainty that a child has juvenile arthritis.Remember, when it comes to the symptoms, it’s quite tricky. Most of the time, children with juvenile arthritis will show more or less the same symptoms. However, there is no actual symptom to be completely sure that a kid definitely has the condition. If your child displays or complains of the following symptoms, you should have them checked out, preferably by a pediatric rheumatologist. There, your child will be thoroughly examined, and blood work or imaging studies may be performed to help find the cause.

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. 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.

There is currently no known cause for most forms of juvenile arthritis. There also is no known evidence that suggests toxins, foods or allergens cause children to develop juvenile arthritis. To properly treat juvenile arthritis, an accurate diagnosis is necessary. The diagnostic process is typically very long and detailed. All children will receive a thorough physical exam and a detailed medical history. There is no cure for juvenile arthritis at this time. Treatment goals are to relieve inflammation, control pain and improve the child’s quality of life and typically include a combination of medication, physical activity, eye care and healthy eating.

Children with JIA should attend school, participate in extra-curricular and family activities, and live life as normally as possible. To foster a healthy transition to adulthood, adolescents with JIA should be allowed to enjoy independent activities, such as taking a part-time job and learning to drive. A positive outlook and continued physical activity will help. Physical and occupational therapy can increase joint motion, reduce pain, improve function, and increase strength and endurance. Therapists may construct splints to prevent permanent joint tightening or deformities, and work with school-based therapists to address issues at school.