You’ve probably heard of rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease and a chronic inflammatory disorder that causes the immune system to attack the joints. But what about when this happens in children under 17, not at the usual over 40? This persistent joint pain, swelling, and stiffness in children is known as juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. Interestingly, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis affects about 50,000 children in the United States alone.
Under normal circumstances, the immune system is in place to protect our bodies from harmful invaders, the likes of bacteria and viruses. In juvenile rheumatoid arthritis however, the immune system attacks the joints causing inflammation around the joints, causing pain and swelling to ensue. The pain and swelling can be debilitating for a child, and hinder then from participating in normal daily activities. As the disease progresses, the joints can become painful, loose, unstable, and eventually lose their mobility. Because joint damage can be irreversible, it is important to diagnose and treat juvenile rheumatoid arthritis as soon as possible. With early diagnosis and treatment, the disease can be managed, and ensure a child is able to go on living a normal or close to normal childhood without immense pain.
What are the symptoms of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis?
Some signs and symptoms of the autoimmune disorder include:
· Joint pain, or limping, most especially after waking up
· Stiffness in the joints that can lead to clumsiness, especially in the morning.
· Swelling in the joints
· High fevers
· Unexplained rash
What causes juvenile rheumatoid arthritis and who is at risk?
Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease which is caused by the body’s own immune system attacking cells and tissues, thus causing the adverse reaction. The exact cause is not clear, but both inherited and environmental factors seem to play a part. One thing that is clear however, is that juvenile rheumatoid arthritis is more common in girls.
If left untreated, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis can lead to eye and growth issues. The disease can cause inflammation in the eyes leading to cataracts, glaucoma and blindness in extreme cases. Similarly, growth and bone development can be affected if the proper treatment isn’t sought out.
How do you diagnose and treat juvenile rheumatoid arthritis?
Because juvenile rheumatoid arthritis can be confused with other medical conditions, it can be difficult to diagnose. There are several blood tests, however that can help confirm a case of juvenile such as rheumatoid factor, anti-nuclear antibody, CCP, ESR, and C-reactive protein blood tests. Imaging tests like X-rays and MRIs might also be recommended to rule out another type of medical condition like a tumor or a bone fracture.
Treatment for juvenile rheumatoid arthritis varies from medications to surgery, but overall the focus is helping children with the condition maintain quality of life and daily movement. Some treatments to reduce pain and swelling are:
· Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
· Anti-rheumatic drugs
· Immunosuppressant drugs
· Physical therapy
· Surgery to improve joint position
Maintaining a regular exercise program is also beneficial to children with the disorder. Exercise can help keep muscles strong and maintain the range of motion of joints so that movement is easier.