Juvenile Arthritis: Symptoms and Treatments

Did you know July is Juvenile Arthritis Awareness Month? According to the Arthritis Foundation, an estimated 300,000 children and teens in America have been diagnosed with some form of juvenile arthritis. That’s approximately one in 250 kids who are suffering from this debilitating disease. So, what are the early signs and symptoms? And, how is this condition treated?

What is Juvenile Arthritis?

Juvenile arthritis describes the inflammatory and rheumatic diseases that develop in children under the age of 16. The most common type of juvenile arthritis is juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA), which is an autoimmune disorder – meaning the body’s immune system attacks the tissues and cells around the joints. There are six types of JIA:

  • Enthesitis-related. Also known as spondyloarthritis, this kind of JIA typically is most common in boys and appears in children ages eight to 15 years old. It affects the entheses – the connective tissue between bone and tendons. While the hips, knees, feet are most often affected by enthesitis-related JIA, other areas of the body – such as the digestive tract (Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis) or spine – may also be impacted. 
  • Juvenile psoriatic arthritis. This condition affects one or more joints (normally the wrists, knees or fingers), as well as the skin. Psoriasis – a scaly rash, on the elbows, knees, scalp, eyelids or behind the ears – may occur concurrently or before/after joint symptoms. 
  • Oligoarthritis. The most common subtype of JIA, this condition affects four or less joints within the body such as the knees, elbows or ankles. Many children will outgrow this disease by adulthood.
  • Polyarthritis. This is a more serious form of JIA, similar to the kind of arthritis found in adults, and it is often caused by an antibody in the bloodstream referred to as the rheumatoid factor. Polyarthritis affects five or more joints (both large and small), often on both sides of the body. 
  • Systemic. This kind of JIA, also known as Still’s disease, affects one’s entire body, including joints, skin and even the internal organs. Notable symptoms include a rash and a high fever that lasts at least two weeks or more. Those suffering from systemic JIA may have arthritis for the rest of their life.
  • Undifferentiated. In this kind of JIA, inflammation is present in one or more joints. However, the prevalent symptoms don’t clearly match with any of the other five subtypes. 

It’s important to note that a child may have one form of JIA, but develop the symptoms of another type as they grow older. In addition, without proper diagnosis and treatment, JIA can cause permanent physical damage, resulting in disability.

Common Symptoms

Children with juvenile arthritis may find that their symptoms fluctuate over time, either getting better or worse. The most common symptoms include:

  • Joint pain
  • Stiffness
  • Tender or swollen joints
  • Fever
  • Fatigue or feeling rundown
  • Rash
  • Loss of appetite
  • Eye inflammation

Causes & Diagnosis

Children of all ages, ethnicities and backgrounds can get juvenile arthritis. Unfortunately, researchers aren’t sure why children develop this form of the disease, however various genetic and environmental factors may be involved.

Juvenile arthritis can be hard to diagnose. Doctors will perform a physical exam and may order laboratory tests that screen for inflammation, as well as order imaging tests (like X-rays, CT scans, MRIs) to determine if there is joint damage.

Treatments

At this moment there is no cure for juvenile arthritis. However, remission of the disease is possible through early diagnosis and treatment. Typical treatment plans will depend on the type of juvenile arthritis and focus on maintaining joint function/mobility, controlling or minimizing pain, and reducing inflammation. In extreme cases, surgery may be necessary.

Ultimately, the main goal of any treatment plan should be ensuring that the child has an overall good quality of life and can stay physically active. Therefore, many children with juvenile arthritis will need a combination of treatments, including medicine, therapeutic physical activities, and a healthy diet. Consult with your doctor about the best treatment options available for your child and the type of juvenile arthritis they have.

Additional Resources

For more information about juvenile arthritis, visit:

At Coastal Orthopedics, our specialists are committed to helping patients get back to living life. Call us today at 941-792-1404 or request an appointment online to learn more about available arthritis treatment options.