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Study: Antibiotic Use in Children Increases Risk of Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis

AntibioticsArthritis is a condition that leads to inflammation of joints causing severe joint pain and swelling. This is an autoimmune disease that occurs when the immune system attacks the body’s own cells and tissues. Juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA), also called juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (JRA), is one of the most chronic rheumatologic diseases occurring in children below the age of 16 years. It is estimated that about 300,000 children in the United States have some sort of arthritis and that JIA is the most common condition.

JIA can affect the joints in any part of the body, causing severe pain, stiffness and swelling in these joints. It can also cause fever, rash and eye inflammation. New research presented at the 2014 annual meeting of the American College of Rheumatology reports that antibiotic use in childhood doubles the risk of juvenile idiopathic arthritis. It was found that antibiotic use accounted for 2.6-fold increases in JIA among children below 16 years when compared to children who did not use antibiotics.

The researchers analyzed data from a UK population-based database of medical records – The Health Improvement Network. They identified 153 children with JIA below the age of 16 years and evaluated the number and type of antibiotic prescriptions each child received. They randomly selected age and sex-matched children without the disease to act as controls.

It was found that children who were exposed to antibacterial antibiotics had a higher risk of developing the condition than children who did not take antibiotics. In addition, the risk was higher for those children who had been exposed to multiple courses of antibiotics.

The results of the study show that antibiotic exposure may increase the risk of JIA in children. The findings highlight the potential harm of antibiotic use in children. Even though these medications are essential for treating certain type of infections, they are often overprescribed for other infections (generally respiratory diseases), that will usually resolve without treatment. Researchers expect that if the link between antibiotics usage and juvenile arthritis is confirmed, antibiotic avoidance can be one of the few ways to prevent this chronic condition from occurring.

One of the lead researchers points out that it is essential to understand and evaluate the biology that interconnects antibiotics, infections, the micro biome, genetics and chronic arthritis in children, and that further study could lead to new ways to prevent and treat JIA.

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