When Your Child Has Juvenile Arthritis

Being a parent is one of the greatest blessings in life, but with that blessing often come worries and concerns. You want to protect your children from everything that the world might throw their way. That’s why when you notice a child experiencing pain and achy joints uncharacteristic of childhood, you want to find answers and ease the pain. Could it be juvenile arthritis?

When Your Child Has Juvenile Arthritis

The most common type of juvenile arthritis is juvenile idiopathic arthritis, otherwise known as juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. It is an autoimmune disease, meaning that the immune system, which usually attacks foreign substances in the body, starts attacking the healthy cells and tissues instead. In this particular autoimmune disease, the immune system attacks joint tissues, causing painful swelling and inflammation.

Signs and Symptoms

Symptoms may include:

  • Joint pain
  • Swelling
  • Stiffness
  • Fatigue
  • Persistent fever
  • Rash
  • Weight loss
  • Blurred vision

While there’s no definitive cause for JA, researchers believe that it may be related to genetics, certain infections, and environmental triggers.

Diagnosing Juvenile Arthritis

Early diagnosis and treatment is crucial to preventing long-term, serious damage to the joints. The challenge is that diagnosing juvenile arthritis can be tricky — so many other conditions share the same symptoms. Often, physicians diagnose JA by ruling out other conditions with similar symptoms. The process may include:

  • Imaging scans, such as x-rays, to diagnose damaged bones, or an MRI to find tumors or other complications.
  • Blood cultures to check for bacteria, which would be indicative of an infection in the bloodstream.
  • Blood tests, such as erythrocyte sedimentation rate, C reactive protein, and antinuclear antibody.
  • Tests for viruses and Lyme disease.
  • Bone marrow scan to check for leukemia.
  • Observing the eyes — uveitis, an inflammation of the eye, is a common symptom of JA which physicians can use for diagnosis.

Treating Juvenile Arthritis

Once diagnosis has been established, treatment for juvenile arthritis will vary depending on the needs of the child. Some may simply need pain relievers, while others may need other medications and therapies to limit the progression of the disease.

Medications

1. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). These include ibuprofen and naproxen sodium, which reduce pain and swelling. Your child’s physician may prescribe a stronger medication if over-the-counter pain relievers are not doing the trick. The downside to these is that they can upset the stomach or cause liver problems.

2. Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs). Your doctor may recommend these as well to provide relief from pain and swelling. Common DMARDs include methotrexate and leflunomide.

3. Corticosteroid Injection. This injection into a joint may help reduce swelling and inflammation.

Juvenile Arthritis Therapies

This is an especially important facet of treatment with children.

1. Physical Therapy. This could include swimming and other physical activities which will help get your child moving and will improve musculoskeletal growth.

2. Occupational Therapy. This will help your child learn new ways to do necessary daily activities, play, and take part in school without making arthritis symptoms worse.

3. Social Support. The last thing you want is for your child to feel different or ostracized because of this condition. Talk to your physician about what supports are out there for both you and your child. Studies have shown that providing social support can aid the child to adjust psychologically and can also reduce behavioral problems.

In severe or advanced cases, surgery may be required to repair a deformity, restore movement, and/or reduce pain.

As a parent, you’ll never stop worrying about your child, but knowing more about juvenile arthritis and your treatment options may allay some of your concerns. With renewed peace of mind, both you and you child can start enjoying the wonders of  childhood again.

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