July is Juvenile Arthritis Awareness Month: Here’s What You Need to Know
What is Juvenile Arthritis?
Juvenile arthritis is classified by swelling in the joints of children under the age of 16 that leads to inflammation within the body and internal organs. Juvenile arthritis is an autoimmune disorder, meaning that the immune system attacks its own cells which is the cause of swelling and pain.
If you are worried your child suffers from juvenile arthritis, know that they are not alone. Recent research from the Arthritis Foundation shows that around 300,000 children suffer from juvenile arthritis in the United States alone.
What are the Symptoms of Juvenile Arthritis?
When most people think about the symptoms of Juvenile Arthritis they think about joint pain, swelling and stiffness that does not go away. General symptoms may also include fatigue, appetite loss and high spiking fever.
According to the Arthritis Foundation, joint pain becomes an issue when it causes difficulty in moving or completing everyday tasks. Physical signs to look for include red or swollen joints that feel stiff, painful, tender or warm. Keep in mind that joint symptoms may be worse in the morning upon awakening or after the child has sat in one position for too long, as in car rides or the classroom setting. Children may struggle with fine motor activities, walk with a limp or make accommodations to reduce use of painful joints.
Advanced symptoms affect the joints, skin, eyes and internal organs. Skin symptoms of Juvenile Arthritis include scaly red rash, light spotted pink rash, lupus rash or scleroderma rash. Eye symptoms include dryness, pain, redness, and sensitivity to light or vision issues. The child may experience chronic eye inflammations as well. The swelling of internal organs sometimes causes diarrhea and bloating, shortness of breath and heart issues.
How Do I Obtain a Diagnosis?
Your child will first be examined by his or her pediatrician. This appointment is a regular check-up in which the pediatrician will perform a physical exam, collect family history information and order lab or blood tests. Upon suspicion of juvenile arthritis, your child’s primary care physician will order a referral to a Pediatric Rheumatologist. Your child’s rheumatologist will conduct a more thorough and comprehensive exam in order to evaluate joint functioning. The Rheumatologist will then order a series of laboratory tests and imaging tests to determine the causes of pain.
Your child may be prescribed Advil or Aleve for mild to moderate symptoms. More severe symptoms may be treated with corticosteroids or disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDS). DMARDS may be used in conjunction with a class of medication known as Biologics. Always consult your doctor regarding individualized treatment and medication regimens.
Long-term Management-Health and Lifestyle
Experts agree that exercise and healthy eating habits will greatly assist in the treatment of juvenile arthritis. Reducing swelling that may appear from food allergies and increasing range of motion through physical activity will supplement your child’s health to increase range of motion and lessen pain. Your child’s doctor may further recommend physical and occupational therapies in order to strengthen the child’s muscles and alleviate joint pain. Ultimately, it is important to listen to your child when they tell you that they are in pain and maintain follow up with the child’s rheumatologist and pediatrician.
All research shows that it is important to allow your child to interact with other children that are living with Juvenile Arthritis. Having a social support system decreases feelings of isolation and loneliness, enhances understanding of symptom management and improves medication adherence outcomes. The Arthritis Foundation often hosts support groups and camps for children so speak with your child’s school counselor or doctor for more information about your local chapter. If you are in Georgia, please see the Resources section for a link to virtual camps that are taking place this fall in light of COVID-19.
Upon diagnosis of Juvenile Arthritis your child will become eligible for school-based accommodations. Speak with your child’s school counselor and disability department regarding available resources and accommodations.