Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis (JIA): What You Should Know
Juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA) affects children up to the age of 16 and is characterized by joint inflammation, pain, and lack of mobility. There are different types and it can affect one or more joints.
Although you may believe that arthritis is a disease that only affects older people, it can also affect children and teenagers. In this article, we’ll tell you all about juvenile idiopathic arthritis and its symptoms and treatments.
What to know about juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA)
There’s a very common misconception that arthritis is an inflammatory rheumatic disease that only affects the elderly. However, musculoskeletal system diseases can manifest at any age. In the case of juvenile idiopathic arthritis, it appears before the age of 16.
There are several types of JIA that can manifest during childhood or adolescence and last a lifetime. They can be classified into systemic-onset, polyarticular (negative or positive), oligoarticular or pauciarticular, psoriatic arthritis, undifferentiated arthritis, and enthesitis-related arthritis.
“JIA affects connective tissue, i.e., the main component of the human musculoskeletal system, made up of the muscles, joints, and tendons.”
To diagnose juvenile idiopathic arthritis, doctors have to run different tests and analyze the symptoms. Seeing a rheumatologist is essential. If it’s diagnosed early, the arthritis can be treated.
Symptoms of juvenile idiopathic arthritis
The symptoms will depend on the type of arthritis. Some will even be undetectable to the naked eye.
For example, patients with systemic-onset JIA suffer from joint swelling, fever, and rashes. Polyarticular juvenile idiopathic arthritis affects at least five joints at once. Oligoarticular or pauciarticular juvenile idiopathic arthritis affects the knees and wrists.
Some of the typical signs of juvenile idiopathic arthritis are:
- Inflamed, reddened, and hot joints.
- Sudden high fever.
- Lameness, stiffness, joint pain.
- Limited range of motion, trouble using limbs.
- Skin rashes.
- Pale skin, swollen lymph nodes.
- Low back pain.
- Red eyes, eye pain, photophobia, vision changes.
If your child has at least one of these symptoms, you should take him or her to a specialist immediately to get checked out.
Specialists run several tests to diagnose juvenile idiopathic arthritis, including blood tests that reveal rheumatoid factor, antinuclear antibodies, complete blood count, erythrocyte sedimentation rate, and HLA-B27.
“X-rays of the affected joints, EKG, bone scintigraphy, and eye exams can also be used to diagnose this condition.”
Is there a treatment or cure for juvenile idiopathic arthritis?
If only one or two joints are affected and the symptoms are mild, the specialist may prescribe nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen, which may be enough to reduce symptoms. Corticosteroids may be prescribed to patients with more severe pain.
When more than three or four joints are affected, patients suffer from fever, swollen lymph glands or rashes. In these cases, specialists may prescribe disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs that reduce symptoms, such as methotrexate, Enbrel, and Remicade.
It’s recommended that patients do mild to moderate physical activity instead of resting because that numbs the affected joints even more.
“For this reason, parents should encourage their children with juvenile idiopathic arthritis to ride their bike, walk, swim, or play a sport.”
Physical therapy can help reduce pain and extend the range of motion of certain joints. Cold compresses can also be applied to the affected area to reduce inflammation.
In addition, affected children should count on the help of their parents, friends, and family, as well as psychological assistance if the situation depresses them or makes them irritable.
Many children don’t want to leave their homes or play with their friends due to the pain or because their condition embarrasses them.
Children diagnosed in the earliest stages of the disease may be able to continue their normal lives, provided they follow the prescribed treatments. In most of these cases, arthritis stagnates and causes little joint damage.
The severity of the disease depends on the number of affected joints and their condition. It’s worth noting that children diagnosed with this condition are more likely to suffer from chronic pain or rheumatoid arthritis as adults.