Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis
Managing arthritis in children
Arthritis is described as an inflammation of joints causing swelling, heat and arthritis pain. It can be a short-term event, lasting just a few weeks or months, or it can be a chronic condition, lasting many months or even years. Rarely, it can last for life. Juvenile arthritis affects roughly 50,000 children in the United States.
The exact cause of rheumatoid arthritis in children is still unknown. It is an autoimmune disease in which the white blood cells can no longer tell the difference between the body's own healthy cells and harmful invaders. Thus, the immune system releases chemicals that can damage healthy cells, causing pain and inflammation.
The first signs of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis can be either obvious or subtle. These symptoms include:
- Swelling of the joints
- Sore muscles, particularly at the joints
- Stiffness in the hips, neck and other joints
- High fever
A diagnosis of arthritis can be made with a detailed medical history and a thorough physical examination. Blood tests or X-rays may also be ordered by the doctor to eliminate other possible conditions or causes for the symptoms.
A doctor or physical therapist will be able to determine the best option for arthritis treatment. Combinations of any of the following treatments work to provide arthritis relief:
- Medications – Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen may be prescribed to provide arthritis pain relief. They work to reduce inflammation by slowing the release of damaging chemicals from white blood cells.
- Physical therapy – Most patients are assigned an appropriate physical therapy program to help them manage their arthritis. Special exercise will be recommended to suit a child's specific needs.
- Habitual exercise – It's important for children with arthritis to participate in regular exercise even when pain occurs. Regular activity helps keep the muscles strong and healthy to protect the joints.
Daily life with arthritis
Despite the pain and discomfort that arthritis can bring, children can still lead active, healthy lives. Prescribed medication can reduce and relieve the pain and inflammation of joints, while proper education can help make the condition seem less scary or confusing.
At home and at school, children with arthritis should get regular exercise and participate in child fitness programs. Schools offer a variety of fitness activities that also encourage the children to make friends and have fun. Some fun, safe activities include swimming, bicycling and walking. Very-high-impact sports, such as football, should be avoided, as they can put strain on the already weakened joints.
With a little extra care (and perhaps the occasional anti-inflammatory), there is no reason your child can't have a normal, happy childhood, despite their juvenile rheumatoid arthritis.