Keeping Kids Healthy Advice
Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis
Most people have heard of arthritis, or the condition that causes painful joint inflammation. Nearly 50,000 children in the U.S. suffer from juvenile rheumatoid arthritis or JRA.
JRA can be short-term and last for a few weeks, or it can be chronic (long-term) and last for months or years, in some cases it can cause permanent damage.
The cause of JRA in children is still unknown, but research has shown that it may be an autoimmune disease, meaning that the body’s white blood cells lose the ability to distinguish between healthy cells and harmful bacteria or viruses, and instead of only protecting the body from diseases, the immune system releases chemicals that can harm healthy tissue, causing inflammation and pain.
Early diagnosis of JRA is necessary to manage and minimize pain and inflammation that it causes. It can appear between the ages of 6 months and 16 years. First symptoms include joint pain, swelling, and reddened or warm joints.
The three major types of JRA include:
Polyarticular arthritis, which affects more girls than boys, is characterized by swelling or pain in 5 or more joints. Smaller joints (such as those in the hands), as well, as larger weight-bearing joints (such as those in the knees, ankles, hips, feet and neck), are affected. It may be accompanied by low-grade fever and bumps or nodules on the body in areas.
Pauciarticular JRA affects 4 or less joints. Symptoms include pain, stiffness, and swelling of joints. Knee and wrist joints are the most commonly affected areas. Inflammation of the iris (colored part of the eye) may occur with or without swelling in joints.
Systemic JRA affects the entire body. High fevers in the evening that suddenly drop to normal are common. The child may feel very ill, develop a rash that appears suddenly, disappears and reappears. The child’s joints will eventually swell and become painful and stiff. Systemic JRA can cause inflammation of internal organs as well, including the heart, the lungs, the spleen, and the brain.
If you suspect your child may be suffering from JRA, talk with his or her doctor. The doctor will take a detailed medical history, conduct a thorough physical exam and may take X-rays and blood tests to exclude other conditions that have symptoms similar to JRA.
Treatment focuses on the reduction of pain, inflammation and prevention of joint destruction. Treatment plans often includes a combination of medicine, physical therapy and exercise.
There is no way to prevent JRA, but it is possible to slow down its effects. Coping with JRA can require a great deal of effort on both parents and their children and there are several arthritis organizations that can provide support for families suffering from the condition, such as the American Juvenile Arthritis Organization. For more information on the AJAO or juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, call 800-283-7800.