What is Juvenile Arthritis and How to Treat It
July 26 2022
Symptoms of JA plus Tips for Caregivers
When we think of arthritis, we think of elderly people whose bodies are beginning to deteriorate after a lifetime of movement and joy.
However, arthritis is not limited to seniors and could affect people of any age, including children. In fact, according to the Arthritis Foundation, juvenile arthritis affects nearly 300,000 children and teens in the United States.
Juvenile arthritis (JA), also referred to as pediatric rheumatic disease, isn’t a specific disease, but is an umbrella term used to describe inflammatory and rheumatic diseases that develop in children under the age of 16.
Juvenile Arthritis: Common Symptoms
Most types of JA are autoimmune or autoinflammatory diseases. This means that the immune system gets confused and releases inflammatory chemicals that attack healthy cells and tissue. In the majority of cases, JA leads to joint inflammation, swelling, pain, and tenderness. However, some types of JA have few or no joint symptoms or only affect the skin and internal organs.
Let’s take a deeper look at some of these common symptoms.
- Joints: they often appear red or swollen and feel stiff, painful, tender, and warm. This can cause difficulty moving or completing everyday tasks. Joint symptoms often are worse after waking up or staying in one position for too long.
- Eyes: symptoms include dryness, pain, redness, sensitivity to light, and trouble seeing properly (caused by chronic eye inflammation).
- Skin: symptoms can include scaly red rashes (psoriatic), light spotted pink rash (systematic), butterfly shaped rash across the bridge of the nose and cheeks (lupus), or thick, hardened patches of skin (scleroderma).
- Internal Organs: internal organs can be affected, including the digestive tract (diarrhea and bloating), lungs (shortness of breath), and heart.
- Other: some other symptoms include fatigue, appetite loss, and high fever.
The exact causes of JA are unknown, much like arthritis found in adults. Researchers believe that certain genes may cause JA when activated by a virus, bacteria, or other external factors. There is no evidence to suggest that foods, toxins, allergies, or lack of vitamins can cause the disease.
Types of Juvenile Arthritis
There are several types of JA including:
- Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis: the most common form of JA and includes 6 types – oligoarthritis, polyarthritis, systematic, enthesitis-related, juvenile psoriatic, and undifferentiated.
- Juvenile Myositis: an inflammatory disease that causes muscle weakness and includes two types – juvenile polymyositis and juvenile dermatomyositis, which causes a rash on the eyelids and knuckles.
- Juvenile Lupus: an autoimmune disease that can affect the joints, skin, internal organs, and other areas of the body; the most common form is systemic lupus erythematosus, or SLE.
- Juvenile Scleroderma: describes a group of conditions that causes the skin to tighten and harden
- Vasculitis: this type of disease causes inflammation of the blood vessels, which can lead to heart complications; Kawasaki disease and Henoch-Schonlein purpura (HCP) are the most common types in kids and teens.
- Fibromyalgia: a chronic pain syndrome that causes widespread muscle pain and stiffness, along with fatigue, disrupted sleep, and other symptoms; it is more common in girls but rarely diagnosed before puberty.
Treatment and Caregiver Tips for Juvenile Arthritis
While there is no cure for JA, with early diagnosis and aggressive treatment, remission (little or no disease activity or symptoms) is possible. Some goals of JA treatment include slowing down or stopping inflammation, relieving symptoms and controlling pain, improving quality of life, preserving joint function, and reducing long-term health effects.
Here are some things you can focus on to help your child or patient achieve remission.
- Medications: Encourage the patient to take their medications as prescribed. These are maintenance medications, and some patients may think it is okay to stop taking their prescriptions once they feel better, however, this can lead to symptoms returning.
- Surgery: While most children with JA will never need surgery, joint replacement can help children with severe pain or joint damage. Many procedures can be performed on an outpatient basis. Encourage the patient to follow medical advice post-surgery for optimal recovery.
- Exercise: Regular exercise is key to managing joint stiffness. Low-impact and joint-friendly activities such as walking, swimming, biking, and yoga are best; however, kids with well-controlled JA can participate in almost any activity they wish, as long as their medical team approves. On tough days, it’s important to balance light activity with rest and break up tasks throughout the day to protect joints and preserve energy.
- PT and OT: Physical and occupational therapy can help patients stay active and perform basic tasks with ease, improving their quality of life. They may be prescribed strengthening and flexibility exercises, have help improving their balance and coordination, and may also be shown how to use assistive devices, such as braces, splints, or hand grips.
- Diet: Some foods can help curb inflammation, like those found in the Mediterranean diet. This includes fatty fish, fruits, veggies, whole grains, and extra virgin olive oil. They should also be encouraged to avoid high-fat, sugary, and processed foods.
- Hot and Cold Treatments: Heating pads and warm baths can soothe stiff joints and tired muscles, while cold is best for acute pain and reducing inflammation.
- Holistic Health: Other treatments including medication, deep breathing, massage, acupuncture, and dealing with mental health have all been shown to improve overall health and reduce JA symptoms.
Improving Quality of Life through Relationships
Remember that it is important that children with JA have opportunities to socialize. Developing and maintaining friendships is a healthy part of life. You might also consider getting them into a peer support group or matching them up with an adult who has arthritis for mentorship.
By following all of these tips, you can help your child or patient reduce symptoms of juvenile arthritis. But more than that, it is about teaching them techniques to improve their quality of life well into adulthood. This will allow them to thrive and lead happy and fulfilling lives.