Arthritis is a common condition in particular with seniors. It is incorrectly referred to as a single disease when in fact it is a many-faceted condition. In fact the term arthritis is an umbrella term under which there are up to 100 conditions nearly all involving two or more joints in the body. When there is a problem with the tissue which covers the ends of the bones, conditions can arise such as weakness of joints, instability or even a deformity.
If these symptoms occur it is obvious that the sufferer will not only be in pain but restricted in daily activities such as driving a car, gardening, shopping, climbing stairs, etc.
Many people regard arthritis as a natural part of growing old and age may well be one of the factors. But that overlooks the fact that many sufferers with arthritis are still in the workforce and, strange as it may seem, some sufferers are still at school; some are even pre-school in age. When the disease affects youngsters, that is anyone under the age of 18 years, the condition is known as juvenile arthritis.
You may think juvenile arthritis is rare but this is not the case. In fact in the United States, juvenile arthritis is one of that country’s most common childhood diseases. (1)
Apart from the natural stress and suffering caused by the disease for the child and its family, the countries in which the juvenile arthritis sufferers live suffer a significant economic penalty in lost wages and productivity. This is because so many working parents take time off work to take their arthritic child to receive treatment.
Just as arthritis is itself an umbrella term, so too juvenile arthritis covers a number of diseases. There are children as young as 3 who have been diagnosed with juvenile arthritis and the name of their condition is synonymous with that of childhood arthritis. There is no difference between the two and the terms are inter-changeable.
One of the most common types of juvenile arthritis was known as juvenile rheumatoid arthritis but in recent times the word ‘rheumatoid’ has been removed. This is to avoid confusion because rheumatoid arthritis in adults is not the same as in children. And not only is the disease not the same as far as symptoms and treatment are concerned, the prognosis in children is much better with every chance of a complete recovery.
Symptoms, causes and treatment
Approximately in 1 in 1000 children will be diagnosed with juvenile arthritis. It’s most unlikely to be found in babies but toddlers have been diagnosed. There is no single test for juvenile arthritis and many times a specialist such as a paediatric rheumatologist is required to examine the youngster. Parents and medical professionals should be aware of the symptoms which include:
- Awkward movements including limping
- Swelling of a joint or joints
- Fevers that return again and again
- Lack of both energy and a willingness to be active
- Not using an arm or leg in the expected way
- Problems with detailed motor skills such as writing, drawing, etc.
Some forms of juvenile arthritis affect girls more than boys and other forms affect the sexes equally. Some juveniles suffer red spots on their chest and legs and most children find their arthritis affects their ankles, wrists and knees.
There is no known cause of most types of juvenile arthritis but there is no evidence to suggest allergies, food additives or a lack of vitamins are in any way responsible. Juvenile arthritis is not contagious and one child in a family cannot pass it on to another.
Treatment varies from patient to patient. Often a paediatric rheumatologist will take charge of the treatment plan. Drugs are often prescribed with anti-inflammatory drugs being used in the early stages.
The aim of each treatment program is to reduce swelling, ease pain, stop any joints from being damaged and have the patient doing as many of their normal activities as possible.
As well as any medication will come encouragement to engage in normal physical activities. There will also be attention to teeth and eyes and particular attention to nutritional matters. Some children with juvenile arthritis develop a condition called uveitis which involves some inflammation of the eyes. Normal schooling, if applicable, is a priority and if necessary, occupational therapy is used.
Juvenile arthritis is able to be successfully treated. Parents can obtain a wide range of information including from specialist medical groups dealing with the topic such as The American Juvenile Arthritis Organization.
1) Arthritis and Rheumatism by R.C. Lawrence 1998.