We’re accustomed to joint problems increasing as we age into our wisest selves but there is a small population that experiences this at a young age. Juvenile arthritis (JA) is an umbrella term for several autoimmune and inflammatory diseases that can affect children.
There are 7 different types of juvenile arthritis:
- Juvenile idiopathic arthritis – This includes several different subtypes: oligoarthritis, polyarthritis, systemic, enthesitis-related, juvenile psoriatic arthritis, and undifferentiated.
- Kawasaki disease – An inflammatory disease that affects the blood vessels. This can lead to heart complications without proper or delayed treatment.
- Juvenile scleroderma – Causes the skin to harden.
- Juvenile dermatomyositis – Causes a skin rash on knuckles and eyelids, and causes muscle weakness. It is an inflammatory disease.
- Juvenile lupus – Affects the joints, blood, kidneys, skin, and other areas of the body. It is an autoimmune disease.
- Fibromyalgia – A chronic pain syndrome that is an arthritis-related condition. More common in girls but rarely is diagnosed before puberty.
- Mixed connective tissue disease – This can include features of the other diseases.
Almost 300,000 children in the United States have some form of juvenile arthritis and 50,000 of those suffer from the most common, juvenile idiopathic arthritis. These diseases present themselves in children as young as 6 months old. Some children may have no symptoms at all and symptoms can vary depending on which type of disease they have.
Some of the more common symptoms include:
- Joint pains and swelling
- Stiffness, especially in the morning
- Weight loss
- Eye redness, pain, and/or blurred vision
Unfortunately, diagnosing for juvenile arthritis can be difficult. There are no specific tests for JA but doctors can use tests to eliminate other options or even help determine which type of arthritis the child may have. A careful physical exam and a thorough medical history will help with determining a diagnosis. As with most diseases, early identification and treatment are important to deterring future complications.
Cause and Treatment
The cause of juvenile arthritis is still unknown. It is possible that genetics could cause a predisposition for the disease. There is no data to suggest that it could be caused by toxins, foods, or an allergy. There’s no known cure for juvenile arthritis but treatments can help lessen symptoms. Some goals for treatments include reducing swelling and pain, preventing joint damage, and improving joint mobility and strength. There are a variety of options for medication, including IVIg. While it may seem counterintuitive, exercise is actually a vital part of treatment. Diet is another component of maintaining proper nutrition is important to a child’s natural development and to encourage an active lifestyle. Children with juvenile arthritis are still able to lead active lives along with their friends and family. With the care of a trained physician, families can work together to improve a child’s chance of maintaining an improved quality of life, maybe even gaining remission.