7 things to know about childhood arthritis

June 16, 2022 | by Uzma Muneer, D.O.
Categories: Healthy Driven Moms

When you picture someone with arthritis, you may be imagining an older adult. But an estimated 300,000 children in the U.S. have been diagnosed with arthritis, states the American College of Rheumatology.

Juvenile arthritis (JA) is an umbrella term for inflammatory and rheumatic diseases that develop in children under 16. Childhood arthritis can affect children of all ages, with the majority diagnosed between ages 2-5. The most common type of arthritis in children is juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA), also called juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (JRA).

Below are 7 facts about childhood arthritis:

  1. Though arthritis is unusual in children, it is not rare. In fact, more children have arthritis than juvenile diabetes, cystic fibrosis, cerebral palsy and muscular dystrophy combined. The most common joints to be affected by JRA are the knees, ankles, wrists, elbows and small joints in the hands.

  2. The exact cause of childhood arthritis is unknown. In juvenile arthritis, the immune system malfunctions which causes the inflammation in the joints and other body systems. It’s not known what causes this to happen. An illness, infection, medication exposure or allergic reaction can trigger arthritis.

  3. Arthritis can be difficult to diagnose in children. diagnosis of JIA depends on physical findings, medical history and ruling out other conditions with similar symptoms, such as infections, childhood cancer, bone disorders, Lyme disease and lupus. To be diagnosed with chronic arthritis or JIA, a child must have arthritis symptoms for six weeks or longer.

  4. Joint pain is not the only arthritis symptom in children. Some children may not complain of pain at first. Symptoms may come and go—flare up and get better—over time. Some symptoms of JIA include:

    • Joint stiffness, especially when awakening
    • Joint pain and/or swelling
    • Limited range of motion, difficulty with daily activities
    • Limping, reluctance to use an arm or leg
    • Persistent fever
    • Rash
    • Weight loss, loss of appetite
    • Fatigue, tiredness, reduced activity level
    • Irritability

  5. Arthritis may last for several months or be lifelong. In some children with JIA, the disease will go into remission. But in others, the disease persists. There may be times when symptoms get worse or better.

  6. A pediatric rheumatology team is key. Pediatric rheumatologists are doctors who specialize in arthritis in children. Other members of the care team may include physical and occupational therapists to increase joint motion, reduce pain, improve function, and increase strength and endurance. The team can coordinate care with a child’s pediatrician or family medicine doctor.

  7. Childhood arthritis is treatable. The goal of treatment for childhood arthritis is to control symptoms, maintain function and prevent joint damage. Treatment may include steroids injected into the joint, oral steroids, disease-modifying drugs such as medications known as biologics. Also, exercises like walking, swimming, biking and yoga can strengthen the muscles and other structures that support the joints.

Growing up with arthritis has its challenges, but it is treatable. With help from an expert team, most children can expect to live full and active lives.

Explore children’s services at Edward-Elmhurst Health.

Learn more about arthritis and rheumatology at Edward-Elmhurst Health.

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