Did you know there are more than 300,000 children in the US with arthritis? July has been named Juvenile Arthritis Awareness Month with the goal of making everyone aware that arthritis is not just an adult condition – kids get arthritis too.
The term “arthritis” refers to inflammation of the joints. There are more than 100 different types of arthritis and related conditions. Juvenile arthritis is not a disease in and of itself, but an umbrella term used to describe many autoimmune and inflammatory conditions in children less than 16 years old that cause arthritis.
Each condition involving juvenile arthritis has its own symptoms and concerns and affects the joints and musculoskeletal system in varying degrees. Common joint symptoms of arthritis can include swelling, pain, stiffness, redness and warmth, and loss of motion.
Some common conditions associated with juvenile arthritis include:
- Juvenile idiopathic arthritis (formerly known as juvenile rheumatoid arthritis)
- The most common form of juvenile arthritis
- Occurs when the body’s immune system attacks its own cells and tissues
- Involves swelling in one or more joints lasting at least 6 weeks
- Subtypes are defined by the number of joints affected and if fever and rashes are prominent features
- Symptoms may include muscle and soft tissue tightening, bone erosion, joint misalignment and changes in growth patterns
- Juvenile dermatomyositis
- An inflammatory disease causing muscle weakness and a skin rash on the eyelids and knuckles
- Can result in muscle weakness in the trunk, shoulders and upper legs
- 1 of every 5 children with this also have arthritis
- Juvenile lupus
- A disease of the immune system
- Can affect the joints, skin, kidneys, blood and other areas of the body
- Symptoms include a butterfly-shaped rash that bridges the nose and cheeks, a scaly type rash on the face or neck, sensitivity to sunlight, and pain in the chest and joints
- Juvenile scleroderma
- A group of conditions that cause the skin to tighten and harden
- Can be localized (primarily in the skin) or systemic (involving other organs)
- The localized form is more common in children
- Kawasaki disease
- Primarily affects infants and young children
- Often involves a high fever, a rash and/or swelling around the hands and feet, red eyes, lips and tongue, and swollen lymph nodes
- The largest concern is inflammation of the blood vessels which can lead to cardiac complications
- Mixed connective tissue disease
- May include features of arthritis, lupus and scleroderma
- A chronic pain syndrome which can cause stiffness and aching along with fatigue and poor sleep
No specific cause of most forms of juvenile arthritis has been found. Some research has suggested a genetic predisposition to develop juvenile arthritis when triggered by other factors. There is no cure for juvenile idiopathic arthritis as it remains a chronic condition, but with early diagnosis and treatment, remission is possible.
The goal of treatment is to relieve inflammation, control pain and improve quality of life. Most treatment plans involve a combination of medication, physical activity, eye care (because inflammation of the eyes is commonly involved), and healthy eating.
More information and resources about juvenile arthritis, as well as the content discussed in this article can be found by visiting the resources below: