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Juvenile Arthritis

Believe it or not children can get arthritis just like adults. Juvenile arthritis is the term used to describe arthritis in children. The most common type that children get is juvenile idiopathic arthritis. Juvenile arthritis affects children of all ages and ethnic backgrounds. About 294,000 American children under age 18 have arthritis or other rheumatic conditions.

Juvenile arthritis is usually an autoimmune disorder. As a rule, the immune system helps fight off harmful bacteria and viruses. But in an autoimmune disorder, the immune system attacks some of the body, healthy cells and tissues. Scientists don’t know why this happens or what causes the disorder. Some think it’s a two step process in children: something in a child’s genes (passed from parent to child) makes the child more likely to get arthritis, and something like a virus then sets the arthritis off.

The most common symptoms of juvenile arthritis are joint swelling, pain, and stiffness that don’t go away. Usually it affects the knees, hands, and feet. Other signs include: limping in the morning because of a stiff knee, excessive clumsiness, high fever and skin rash, swelling in lymph nodes in the neck and other parts of the body. Most children with arthritis have times when the symptoms get better or away (remission) and other times when they get worse (flare). Arthritis in children can cause eye inflammation and growth problems. It also can cause bones and joints to grow unevenly.

There is no easy way for a doctor to tell if a child is suffering from juvenile arthritis. It is usually suspected when a child has constant joint pain or swelling, as well as skin rashes that can’t be explained and a fever along with swelling of lymph nodes or inflammation in the body’s organs. To be sure that it is juvenile arthritis doctors depend many things, which may include: physical exam, symptoms, family history, lab tests, and x-rays.

A team approach is the best way to treat juvenile arthritis. It is best if a doctor trained to treat these types of diseases in children (a pediatric rheumatologist) manages your child’s care. Doctors who treat arthritis in children will try to make sure your child can remain physically active. They also try to make sure your child can stay involved in social activities and have an overall good quality of life. Treatments may be prescribed to reduce swelling, maintain joint movement, and relieve pain. Most children will need a blend of treatments.

Pain sometimes limits what children with juvenile arthritis can do. However, exercise is key to reducing the symptoms of arthritis and maintaining function and range of motion of the joints. Most children with arthritis can take part in physical activities and certain sports when their symptoms are under control. Swimming is a good activity because it uses many joints and muscles without putting weight on the joints.

Research is ongoing to find the possible causes of juvenile arthritis and scientist are studying genetic and environmental factors that they think may be involved. In addition, professionals are working to improve current treatments and find medicines that will work better with fewer side effects.