May is Arthritis Awareness Month. Most people may not be aware that children get arthritis, too. In fact, about 1 in every 1,000 children develops some type of arthritis.
There are many different types of arthritis – one family of arthritis that is seen in children and one that is not.
- Inflammatory arthritis an autoimmune form of arthritis, is seen in both adults and children. In adults it is called RA. In children, it is called juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (JRA), or Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis (JIA). There are an estimated 300,000 children in the US with JIA. Inflammatory arthritis can also be seen in other autoimmune diseases such as SLE, Inflammatory Bowel Disease and Psoriasis.
- Osteoarthritis, also called degenerative joint disease, is an adult disease. Children do not develop osteoarthritis, which is seen in most adults as they age.
What should parents watch for? Arthritis in children most often presents with chronic swelling and stiffness in one or more joints. Whereas, adults usually have polyarthritis (many joints involved), children may have a variable number of joints involved and commonly only one joint is involved. Other symptoms include fever, rash and/or eye inflammation. Learn more about symptoms.
Why is it important to diagnose and treat JIA? Damage to joints may occur with chronic swelling. An inflammatory disease of the eye called uveitis may occur in children with JIA. All children with JIA should get regular eye exams to screen for this complication that can be present without any eye symptoms.
How is JIA treated? The bad news is that there is no cure for arthritis; the good news is that it is treatable. There are effective medications available that help control symptoms, prevent joint damage, and maintain function. It is important that a pediatric rheumatologist evaluate children with suspected JIA in order to accurately diagnose and treat them.
How can I help my child remain comfortable? Children with arthritis should be encouraged to participate in normal, age-appropriate physical activities. Talk to your child’s school about Federal Act 504, which may provide your child with special accommodations. Also bear in mind that children with JIA often do not know any peers with the same diagnosis. There are summer camps for kids and family organizations that offer opportunities for both children and parents to interact with others sharing the same experiences.
For more information please review these resources:
- Kids Get Arthritis, Too from the Arthritis Foundation
- Juvenile Arthritis Alliance
- The CARRA Registry
- The American College of Rheumatology
Leslie Abramson, MD, is a Pediatric Rheumatologist at the University of Vermont Children’s Hospital at the University of Vermont Medical Center. She is also Associate Professor at the Larner College of Medicine at UVM.