July is the Juvenile Arthritis (JA) Awareness Month. Often there is a misconception that arthritis or joint inflammation affects only older adults. But juvenile arthritis is one of the most common chronic illnesses affecting children. According to the statistics from CDC, nearly 300,000 children have been diagnosed with some form of juvenile arthritis in the U.S. The condition is often undetected or misdiagnosed when symptoms first appear. With this awareness month, the Arthritis Foundation is focusing on increasing awareness of early signs and symptoms of juvenile arthritis and resources for families affected by the disease.
While in adults the condition typically affects the joints, arthritis in children can cause bone and joint growth problems, and also affect the eyes, skin, and gastrointestinal tract.
The most common type of this condition is juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (JRA). The condition can occur in children as young as 6 months old. Key symptoms may include joint pain, swelling, and redness that do not go away or return frequently. Other signs of juvenile arthritis include: Limping due to a stiff knee, excessive clumsiness, high fever and skin rash and swelling in the lymph nodes.
However, the actual cause for this chronic condition is not known. Some research points toward a genetic predisposition, which means the combination of genes a child receives from family members, may cause the onset of arthritis when triggered by other factors.
Early diagnosis and medical treatment of JRA can prevent serious, permanent damage to a child’s joints. Coping with a chronic illness diagnosis is difficult, especially for children. A thorough physical exam along with taking a medical history can help rheumatologists diagnose the condition. X-rays and other imaging tests can also help to find out other potential causes of symptoms.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for juvenile arthritis. With the goal to relieve inflammation, control pain and improve the child’s quality of life, many healthcare centers provide pain management programs that include:
- Physical therapy to help restore motion and flexibility in joints
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), corticosteroids, and analgesics to help relieve inflammation and control pain
- Regular exercise programs
- TENS (Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation)
- Other medications