You might think of arthritis as affecting only older people, but kids can have arthritis, too. In fact, in the United States, it’s estimated that nearly 300,000 kids have a type of arthritis known as juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, which causes pain and swelling in the hips, knees, or other joints.
At Orange Orthopaedic Associates, James M. Lee Jr., MD, uses advanced techniques to diagnose juvenile rheumatoid arthritis at his offices in West Orange and Bayonne, New Jersey. Here’s what he wants parents to understand about this painful childhood ailment.
Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis: Causes and symptoms
Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis is defined as arthritis symptoms affecting kids 16 and under for six months or more.
Like adult-onset rheumatoid arthritis, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis happens when the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy joint tissues.
But while adult-onset rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic, lifelong disease, the symptoms of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis often subside by the time the child reaches adulthood.
New name, same symptoms
Today, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis is commonly referred to as juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA). Idiopathic means there’s no single, known cause of the disease. There are several types of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis:
- Oligoarticular JIA involves 1-4 joints in the first six months
- Polyarticular JIA involves 5 or more joints in the first six months
- Psoriatic JIA occurs in some kids with psoriasis
- Enthesitis-related JIA involves swelling where bones meet ligaments or tendons
- Systemic onset, the rarest type, causes organ inflammation, fever, and rash
Children who have two or more of the above types have “undifferentiated” JIA.
In addition to joint swelling and pain, kids may have:
- Tenderness around the joint
- Redness or warmth around the joint
- Reduced range of motion in the joint
- Swollen lymph nodes
- Decreased appetite
- Eye inflammation
In some kids, JIA affects the way the bones grow, or growth may be slower than normal.
Treating juvenile idiopathic arthritis
There’s no cure for JIA, nor is there a single test to diagnose the disease. Instead, Dr. Lee uses several techniques, like X-rays, urinalysis, and blood tests, to rule out other issues and confirm his diagnosis.
Dr. Lee prescribes treatment on an individual basis, depending on your child’s age, symptoms, joint involvement, and other factors. Treatment options may include:
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs)
- Other types of medication to slow the inflammatory response
- Corticosteroid injections to relieve inflammation and stiffness
- Physical therapy or occupational therapy
- Nutritional counseling and lifestyle guidance
Your child’s treatment evolves over time as their symptoms and needs change.
Prompt treatment for JIA is essential. In addition to interfering with normal growth, JIA can cause vision problems, bone thinning (osteoporosis), and in rare instances, organ damage.
Early treatment is also important for relieving symptoms and helping your child stay active, healthy, and happy.
State-of-the-art care for your child’s healthy future
In the old days, childhood joint discomfort was often written off as growing pains. Today, doctors — and parents — know better. Joint pain isn’t normal at any age, including childhood.
If your child has joint discomfort, stiffness, or other unusual symptoms, get them the treatment they need as early as possible. Call us at Orange Orthopaedic Associates or book an appointment online with Dr. Lee today.