Primarily thought of as an “old persons” disease, arthritis can affect individuals of any age, including children. Approximately 300,000 children in the U.S. have juvenile arthritis (JA). JA is a general term to describe the many autoimmune and inflammatory conditions, particularly joint inflammation, that develop in children ages 16 years or younger. It can be caused by more than 100 rheumatic diseases and conditions that affect joints, joint tissue, and other connective tissues. In the case of juvenile arthritis the eyes, skin, and gastrointestinal tract can be affected as well.
There are three major categories of JA: polyarticular (affecting many joints), pauciarticular (pertaining to only a few joints), and systemic (affecting the entire body). The most common form of JA is juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA). While JIA is the most common type of JA there are many other different types including: juvenile dermatomyositis, juvenile lupus, juvenile scleroderma, and Kawasaki disease. The signs and symptoms of JA can vary from child to child. No single test can conclusively establish a diagnosis. A child should be younger than 16 and have initial swelling in one or more joints for at least six or more consecutive weeks before a correct diagnosis can be made.
As with adult forms of arthritis, there is no cure for JA. The goal in treating children with JA is to relieve inflammation, control pain, and improve the child’s quality of life. Treatment plans may comprise a combination of medication, physical therapy, eye care, and healthy eating; the treatment team may include pediatric rheumatologist, dentist, ophthalmologist, and a physical therapist among others.
It is important for parents to assist their children with JA in maintaining a healthy lifestyle and body. This means engaging in moderate physical activity on a regular basis. Exercise keeps the joints flexible and strong, while maintaining a range of motion and minimizing stiffness. Parents and family members can help by engaging in fun, low-impact activities together such as swimming, family walks and bike rides.
Children with arthritis experience a unique set of issues and concerns including the emotional effect of JA, education and schooling, and transitioning to the child being responsible for his or her own care. Arthritis Today offers tips/resources on Parenting a Child with Juvenile Arthritis. We also recommend the following resources/organizations for more information on juvenile and adult arthritis, specific rheumatic conditions (i.e. rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, osteoarthritis, and various others):
Toll Free: 800/283-7800
Local Chapters: www.arthritis.org/chaptermap.php www.arthritis.org/juvenile-arthritis.php
National Institute of Arthritis and
Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS)
Toll Free: 877/226-4267, 301/495-4484 (V), 301/565-2966 (TTY)
National Institutes of Health Osteoporosis and Related Bone Diseases
National Resource Center (NIH ORBED-NRC)
Toll Free: 800/624-2663, 202/223-0344 (V), 202/466-4315 (TTY)