What is Juvenile Arthritis?
Most people think of arthritis as something adults, particularly middle-aged and older adults, develop with age. We think of stiff knees and sore fingers, all the typical aches and pains of getting older. But arthritis isn’t specific to adults. In fact, approximately 300,000 American children under 18 have Juvenile arthritis (JA).
Juvenile arthritis is a general term for arthritis in kids. Additionally, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), “Both juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA) and juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (JRA) are classification systems for chronic arthritis in children. The JRA classification system was developed about 30 years ago and had three different subtypes. More recently, pediatric rheumatologists throughout the world developed the JIA classification system, which includes more types of chronic arthritis that affect children. [It] also provides a more accurate separation of the three JRA subtypes.”
This means Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis, or JIA, is an umbrella term that describes a variety of arthritis conditions in children, including those forms of arthritis formerly referred to as JRA: Systemic arthritis, Oligoarthritis, Polyarthritis (RH- and RH+), Psoriatic arthritis, Enthesitis-related arthritis, and Undifferentiated arthritis.
What Does Juvenile Arthritis Look Like?
JA occurs in many variations, so the outward signs and symptoms are not uniform. The NIH explains that the most common signs are, “…persistent joint swelling, pain, and stiffness that is typically worse in the morning or after a nap.” The most commonly affected areas are the knees and the joints in both the hands and feet. Some children present with high fevers and rashes that come and go, swelling of the lymph nodes, and even internal organ swelling (although this is not the norm). Some children with JA also experience eye inflammation, and for this reason, all children with JA require special eye exams on a routine basis.
Over time, kids with JA can have flare-ups during which their symptoms are particularly bad, and then they can essentially go into remission and not experience any symptoms for extended periods. They do still need routine medical checks and eye exams, even with no symptoms. Additionally, JA can cause growth problems around the joints, causing uneven growth, and this is another issue to be monitored closely.
What Causes Juvenile Arthritis, And How Is It Treated?
JA is largely an autoimmune disorder, although not all instances of JA are autoimmune. Some cases are autoinflammatory. While both causes of JA have similar results – inflammation, pain, etc. – the differences are significant.
Autoimmune disorders occur when the body’s immune system malfunctions and attacks healthy tissues or cells. This is the root of Type 1 Diabetes (T1D) in which the immune system attacks the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas, requiring people with T1D to take insulin to compensate. JA is the same, but in this instance, the immune system attacks cells and tissues resulting in pain and inflammation.
Whether autoimmune or autoinflammatory, JA is a serious, lifelong health challenge, and it requires a team of medical experts to ensure the best possible outcome. Physical and occupational therapists work with children’s pediatricians for routine care, which typically includes anti-inflammatory medications and a variety of physical and occupational therapy activities. In addition, kids with JA usually need rheumatology nurses, dieticians, dentists and orthodontists, eye doctors, dieticians, and school nurses looking after them in concert with their parents or other caregivers.
If your child suffers from Juvenile Arthritis it's important that they wear a medical ID. You should have their name, medical condition, medications, all allergies and an emergency contact phone number engraved onto their medical ID. We also recommend that you speak with your child's doctor or nurse about what medical information to include on their medical ID.