Arthritis is a condition of inflammation of the joints often caused by physical damage to the joint, infection of the joint, or as is commonly associated, age. Arthritis just seems like something you get when you get old.
Like many assumptions, this one is not true.
Over 300,000 children in the U.S. age 16 and younger have been diagnosed with juvenile arthritis (JA). Juvenile arthritis is similar to adult arthritis in that it involves inflammation of the joints; arthritis literally translates to “joint inflammation.”
However, JA is an autoimmune condition that can also affect the eyes, skin, teeth and the gastrointestinal tract of the patient. With JA, the child’s autoimmune system attacks their joints causing swelling and stiffness. The condition is extremely serious and can leave the child with permanent damage. Some cases of JA have proven to be fatal when left untreated.
To date, little is understood about what causes JA and there are no known links to toxins, foods or allergies that would cause the condition. This is partly due to the fact that children’s autoimmune system is not fully developed until age 18. Researchers believe JA may be a genetic predisposition that is likely be triggered by other factors.
As with adult arthritis, JA’s treatment centers on the treatment of inflammation, and the management of the child’s pain. Anti-inflammatory drugs, steroids and analgesics may all be prescribed to alleviate pain and inflammation. Some newly developed medications are able to put JA into remission and prevent further joint damage in certain cases. The approach and treatment of JA will vary depending upon each patient’s needs.
The pain brought on by JA can often be confusing and frustrating for young patients who are not emotionally or physically equipped to cope with their diagnosis. It’s important that these children engage in as many of their routine activities as possible, while being helped to understand that their disease does not define them.
A JA diagnosis will have effects beyond the patient too. Parents and siblings will experience a range of emotions stemming from the diagnosis. These issues need to be carefully addressed and handled to ensure the easiest transition for the family after a JA diagnosis.