Living With Juvenile Arthritis

Juvenile arthritis is the term used to describe arthritis in children.  Commonly people don’t think of arthritis as a disease that affects young people, so it’s important for parents to advocate for their kids when they see signs and symptoms and make sure they get a proper diagnosis.  It is a long-lasting (chronic) inflammatory, autoimmune disease, which begins before a child reaches the age of 18.  There are several other forms of arthritis affecting children, but the most common type of arthritis in children is called juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA).

Arthritis generally results from trauma, degenerative or autoimmune disease, which will eventually lead to joint inflammation. Juvenile arthritis involves four major steps/processes;

  • The joint becomes inflamed and swollen
  • The joint’s growth is changed
  • The joint stiffens (contracture)
  • The joint suffers damage (deformity)

Juvenile arthritis can range from mild to severe. Mild cases do not progress to severe joint disease and deformities, but in severe cases, its most often complicated with serious joint and tissue damage. It can also cause problems with bone development and growth.

What Causes Juvenile Arthritis?

No one knows exactly what causes juvenile arthritis. Juvenile arthritis is an autoimmune disease. This means that the body attacks its own healthy cells and tissues. Studies have linked it to environmental factors, genetic formations and viruses.

Types of Juvenile Arthritis

There are three main types of juvenile arthritis:

  • Oligoarticular:  In this type of juvenile arthritis, just a few joints are affected, and it constitutes about 50% of cases in children.
  • Polyarticular: This type of arthritis affects three or more smaller joints (such as the hands and feet). Usually, the affected joints are on both sides of the body and this constitutes about 30% of cases.
  • Systemic: About 20% of children with juvenile arthritis have the systemic type. This type of juvenile arthritis causes swelling, pain, and limited motion in at least one joint.

 

Symptoms

Juvenile arthritis presents differently and can last for indefinite periods of time. The most common symptoms of juvenile arthritis include:

  • Pain.
  • Swelling.
  • Loss of muscle power
  • Stiffness.
  • Growth problems (Joints growing too fast, too slow, or unevenly)
  • Loss of motion.
  • Eye problems (iridocyclitis)
  • Skin rash
  • Recurrent fever (during flare-up)

Living well with Juvenile Arthritis

Though juvenile arthritis can be a very debilitating illness, the goal is always to give the best the best possible quality of life. The primary purpose of all the treatment options available is to induce remission of the symptoms, and particularly to preserve the child’s quality of life by making it possible for them to participate in play, sports, school, and social activities to the best of their ability.

While pain may limit the amount of activity a child can handle, it is important to encourage involvement in physical activities during periods or remission, and allow rest and symptom-reducing therapies during periods of flare-ups.

It is no doubt that regular activity and tailored exercise programs help to maintain range of motion in affected joints, build and maintain strength, maintain function and can also help with symptom reduction. It’s important to note that once JIA becomes more advanced, the chances of going into remission are much lower, so early diagnosis and treatment are critical.  Prompt treatment can prevent arthritis from becoming more severe and spreading to other joints.  If your child is showing any of the early signs and symptoms, mention this to their doctor to be sure that a proper diagnosis is determined.  A child showing signs of pain in their joints, stiffness, loss of motion and impaired function should also be seeing a physiotherapist.  If you have concerns about your child’s physical health, call us today for a consult.   PCA’s physiotherapists can do a proper assessment and advise you and your family on the best course of action.

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