Can kids get arthritis? Yes, and here’s what to know
Arthritis may seem like an older person’s disease, but it can be common in children, too. Pediatric rheumatologist Jodi Dingle, MD, explained what parents should look for.
What is juvenile arthritis?
Juvenile arthritis is the general term for a variety of conditions that cause inflammation of the lining of joints in children. It is caused by the immune system attacking the lining of the joints instead of doing its usual job of fighting off infection. “We do not know what causes the immune system to do this,” said Dr. Dingle.
There are subtypes of juvenile arthritis based on several factors:
- The age at which symptoms start
- Lab findings
- Associated other conditions
- The joints that are involved
Dr. Dingle said some children outgrow the diagnosis, and others have arthritis that persists into adulthood. Some patients with arthritis also have inflammation of the eye, called uveitis.
Who is at risk for juvenile arthritis?
Juvenile arthritis can present in any age child, but different subtypes of arthritis affect different ages. Some are more prevalent in boys and others are more prevalent in girls.
“Having close family members with an autoimmune condition increases the risk slightly, as does having an autoimmune condition such as inflammatory bowel disease or psoriasis. However, many children with juvenile arthritis do not have these risk factors,” said Dr. Dingle.
What symptoms should parents look for?
Here are common symptoms:
- Joint pain. Arthritis causes pain in the joints and limits your ability to move the joint through its full normal range of motion. Any joint in the body can be affected. Some patients present with arthritis in one joint, others can have dozens of joints involved.
- Stiffness. Joints are often stiff, especially in the morning or after sitting for a long period of time. There is usually swelling of the joint.
- Limping. Some children, especially toddlers, do not have obvious pain, but instead their parents may notice they are limping, holding the leg differently, or using their joint differently than normal.
- Fever and rash. One subtype, systemic juvenile idiopathic arthritis, also has symptoms of daily fever and rash.
How is juvenile arthritis managed? What can you do to avoid flare ups?
Pediatric rheumatologists use a variety of methods to control joint inflammation, including steroid injections for the affected joints, injection medications, infusion medications or oral medications.
“There are new medications being developed all the time which allow us to control patients’ symptoms and prevent damage to the joints,” said Dr. Dingle. “Making sure you take your medications as prescribed is the best way to avoid flare ups, in addition to regular visits with your pediatric rheumatologist so they can examine your joints for signs of inflammation. Patients with juvenile arthritis should stay active – our goal is always to completely control the inflammation so that children can continue to do all of the activities they enjoy and have healthy joints into adulthood.”
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