It’s common to have arthritis in the population of the elderly, but young children – as early as 3 years old – are also susceptible to the painful feeling of joint inflammation.
Growing up with arthritis is not the ideal condition for children, but being well-informed of this chronic disease can help alleviate the struggle.
Multiple types of inflammatory and rheumatic diseases that can affect children aged 16 and below. The most common type being juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (JRA), now classified as juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA). The umbrella term for these diseases is called juvenile arthritis (JA).
JIA is a group of arthritis disorders that are chronic in nature. It causes joint swelling and stiffness and can affect one or more joints that can last for at least 6 weeks or even a lifetime.
There are three main types of JIA that differ in symptoms and number of joints it affects, namely:
This type of JIA affects at least one or more joints. Children with systemic JIA start with high fevers and light pink rashes. There will also be internal organ inflammation that can affect the heart, spleen, and liver.
About 20% of children suffering from JIA have a systemic type.
This type of JIA affects less than four joints and usually targets the knee or ankle. It’s further broken down into persistent and extended types.
The persistent type is considered the mildest state of JIA, occurring in the first 6 months of the disease and affecting more girls than boys. But if more than four joints are still affected after 6 months, it advances into an extended type.
About 50% of children suffering from JIA have an oligoarticular type.
This type of JIA affects multiple joints, that can reach up to five or more, during the first 6 months of being diagnosed with JIA. Smaller joints are often affected such as the hands and feet but can also be felt in larger joints like hips and ankles.
Girls are also more vulnerable to having polyarticular arthritis. This type can also continue into adulthood.
About 30% of children suffering from JIA have a polyarticular type.
As the term idiopathic implies, juvenile arthritis causes in children are currently unknown. However, researchers have tagged JIA as an autoimmune disease, a condition where the body is being attacked rather than protected by the immune system.
Researchers suggest that JIA is hereditary and that environmental factors may have some contribution to the cause.
What are the symptoms?
JIA may have been categorized into different types, but all of them have three or more common symptoms.
First, there’s pain. Children can be seen limping or wincing in pain whenever strenuous activities are being carried out. Next, joint swelling can be observed. There will also be joint stiffness that normally occurs in the morning. All of these can contribute to fatigue, loss of appetite, and irritability.
What can be a juvenile arthritis treatment?
Having JIA can affect the child growth when left undiagnosed and untreated, especially in the early stages of development. Even though the causes of JIA are unknown, there are available treatments that more often involve creating healthy lifestyle habits.
Regular exercise strengthens the muscles, extending support and protection to the joints. It also maintains a level of activeness for children to ensure continuous motion and flexibility. Some exercises can include walking and swimming but will depend on a doctor’s recommendation.
Exercise is an effective home remedy that parents can turn into fun activities for their children.
Physical therapists will arrange a specific program to help manage any type of JIA. It will most likely include a range-of-motions exercise to improve joint function and muscle strength. Ultimately, therapy will help alleviate stiff and sore joints.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs) will often be the first medication prescribed to reduce pain and joint inflammation. Ibuprofen and naproxen are some examples of NSAIDs that can be bought over the counter.
Disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs or DMARDs will follow if the NSAIDs don’t help with relieving pain. It’s a drug that is the same in function with the former but takes a longer time to take effect.
A stronger medication called corticosteroids will be prescribed if a child’s JIA is considered severe. It can be given orally or injected directly into the joint. Although a viable option, corticosteroids are avoided for its side effects.