Arthritis is not a health condition reserved for adults. In fact, approximately 300,000 children in the United States suffer from juvenile arthritis or pediatric rheumatoid disease, which are the terms used to describe arthritis in children.
What is Juvenile Arthritis (JA)?
Juvenile arthritis is not in itself a disease, but it is rather a term used to describe a variety of autoimmune and inflammatory diseases, or pediatric rheumatoid conditions that can affect children younger than 16 years of age. There are many different types of JA and each comes with its own symptoms, causes, and treatment options. Below we will explore the main types of JA conditions:
Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis (JIA)
This is the most common type of JA. This condition induces the immune system to attack the body’s tissues by mistake, which leads to inflammation of the joints and other areas of the body.
Causes: Idiopathic actually means «of unknown origin.» There is no known cause for most types of JIA. The only lead so far is research that shows a genetic predisposition in certain children to develop this condition.
- Swelling and tenderness in the joints
- Not being able to bend or straighten joints completely
- Joints that are warm to the touch
- Sleep problems
- Reduced appetite or weight loss
- Swollen lymph nodes
Treatment: Unfortunately, there is no known cure for JIA. However, with an early diagnosis and aggressive treatment the child can achieve a state of remission, in which the inflammation and pain are controlled. JIA treatment will be determined by a physician and can include medication, lifestyle adjustments, eye and dental care.
Subtypes: There are 6 subtypes of JIA: Systemic JIA, Oligoarticular JIA, Polyarticular JIA, Juvenile Psoriatic Arthirits, Enthesitis-related JIA, and Undifferentiated Arthritis.
Juvenile Dermatomyositis (JDM)
This condition causes muscle weakness and skin rashes, and it is an inflammatory disease. JDM affects mostly children between 5 — 10 years of age.
Causes: The cause of JDM is yet unknown, but there is reason to believe that it has to do with abnormalities in the immune system, which lead to inflammation and damage of the muscle cells and blood vessels.
- Red or purple skin rashes on the eyelids or cheeks
- Patchy rashes around the nails, elbows, knees, or chest
- Muscle weakness, usually in the neck, back, or stomach
Treatment: The aim of treatment is to reduce inflammation and improve function. Some medications that can be prescribed include anti-inflammatories and intravenous immunoglobulin. Other type of treatments necessary might be: physical therapy, speech therapy, and skin protective products.
Lupus is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system mistakenly attacks the body. It can affect nearly every organ, including joints, skin, kidneys, heart, lungs, etc.
Causes: The possible causes of Lupus are yet unknown, but it is believed that Lupus is linked to genetic, environmental, and hormonal factors.
Common Symptoms: Symptoms vary depending on the organ being affected. Lupus patients often go on periods of remission where they present no symptoms.
- Pain or swelling in joints
- Skin rashes
- Hair loss
- Mouth sores
- Present Raynaud’s Phenomenon (skin color changes due to the cold)
Treatment: The treatment is aimed at managing the symptoms and preventing complications. Treatment may include medications, dietary changes, and exercise.
Scleroderma is a group of conditions that causes the skin or tissue to harden. It can affect the skin, muscle, bones, joints, and, in the most severe cases, vital internal organs.
Causes: Scleroderma is caused by the immune system mistaking the body’s tissues as foreign invaders and attacking them. This leads to inflammation and hardening of the tissues. It is believed that genetic and environmental factors play a role in triggering this disease.
Common Symptoms: Symptoms vary depending on whether the patient suffers from localized or systemic scleroderma. Localized scleroderma is characterized by thickened or thinned skin that becomes lighter or darker, and it becomes shiny or smooth in appearance. Systemic scleroderma affects the internal organs and can also show up in the skin of the fingers, hands, forearms, and face.
Treatment: There is no known cure for juvenile scleroderma; however, the disease can go into remission with the proper care. Topical medications and systemic medications can be used.
Kawasaki diseases is a rare condition in which the blood vessels get inflamed causing high fever, rashes, and joint pain and swelling. This disease can result in long-term heart complications if not addresses properly.
Causes: The cause of Kawasaki disease is yet unknown. It is thought that an infection might play a role in triggering it.
- High fevers of up to 104 F
- Joint pain and swelling
- Skin rashes
- Swollen hands and feet
- Swollen neck lymph nodes
- Red, chapped lips
- Peeling skin in the genital area, hands, and feet
- Redness in the palms of the hands or the soles of the feet
- Red or white coating on the tongue, or visible red bumps in the back of the tongue
- Bloodshot eyes
- Cough and runny nose
- Diarrhea and vomiting
- Red mucous membranes in the mouth
Treatment: Patients with Kawasaki disease need to be treated right away in a hospital.
Fibromyalgia is not a disease but a collection of symptoms like pain, fatigue, and memory issues that can be managed and are not life threatening.
Causes: The causes of fibromyalgia are unknown. There are several studies that suggest that injury, trauma, or infection might be linked to the onset of this condition.
- Widespread musculoskeletal pain
- Difficulty falling or staying asleep
- Sadness or depression
- Problems concentrating and remembering things
Treatment: There is no known cure for fibromyalgia but the symptoms can be managed with medications and natural therapies.
Mixed Connective Tissue Disease
This is a rare disorder that presents symptoms from lupus, scleroderma, and polymyositis. The symptoms mimic those of the 3 conditions mentioned before and they usually don’t present themselves at the same time.
Treatment: Treatment depends on which organs are involved and may include anti-inflammatory corticosteroids, immunosuppressive drugs, and other medications.
It is important to visit a specialist for proper diagnosis of JA. The best type of doctor trained to treat these diseases would be a pediatric rheumatologist, but most families have a team of different specialists participate in the care of the child. These teams of specialists might include a physical therapist, an orthopedic surgeon, a dietitian, and a counselor, among others.