Arthritis is often associated with older people but can also affect kids and teens. Arthritis in kids affects those under the age of 16, and is usually known as juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA) or juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (JRA). These are umbrella terms that can be used to describe several different disorders that cause inflammation of the joints.
This article explains the signs and symptoms of arthritis in kids, the most common treatments, and what parents can do to help.
Signs of Arthritis in Kids
The most obvious signs of arthritis in kids are joint pain or stiffness, swelling, redness, and warmth around the joint. These signs may affect just one joint or several. If they occur on fewer than five joints, it is known as oligoarticular JIA, and if on more than five joints, it is known as polyarticular JIA.
Other forms of arthritis in kids include enthesitis-related JIA, psoriatic JIA, and systemic JIA. Each of these conditions has unique signs and symptoms.
Enthesitis-related JIA affects the tendons and ligaments as well as the joints. It most commonly occurs in the knees and ankles.
Psoriatic JIA occurs alongside psoriasis, a skin disease that causes thickened patches of skin known as plaques to form. It can also cause nail abnormalities.
Systemic JIA can affect the whole body, including the internal organs. This condition can cause additional signs such as high fever, swollen glands, and a pink rash.
Other possible signs of juvenile idiopathic arthritis include appetite loss, fatigue, and eye problems, including inflammation, redness, dryness, pain, and sensitivity to light.
As a parent, it is important to recognize the early signs of juvenile idiopathic arthritis. If the disease is not treated promptly, it can cause lasting damage to the joints and may affect a child’s growth and development.
Younger kids may not be able to express that they are experiencing joint pain, so look out for difficulties with activities such as walking, playing, or dressing. If your child seems to be having issues, check for joint swelling, redness, and warmth.
In systemic JIA, kids will often develop a high fever at the onset of the disease or when flare-ups occur. This is another early sign that parents can look out for to ensure their kids get the right treatment as quickly as possible.
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Treatment for Arthritis in Kids
Juvenile idiopathic arthritis occurs when the immune system becomes overactive and attacks the joints, resulting in inflammation. Therefore, treatment is geared toward managing inflammation, suppressing immune system activity, and managing symptoms. Some of the most common options include:
- Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) and painkillers: These medicines are available over-the-counter and on prescription. They can help to reduce joint pain, swelling, and stiffness and are often a first-line treatment for JIA.
- Corticosteroids: Corticosteroids are a class of stronger anti-inflammatory drugs that are available on prescription. They are usually administered as an injection directly into the affected joints. Oral corticosteroids are also available but should not be used long-term due to the risk of side effects.
- Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs): These drugs help to suppress the immune system and reduce inflammation. They may be useful when treatments such as NSAIDs and corticosteroids have proven ineffective.
- Biologic response modifiers: These drugs work similarly to DMARDs but target specific proteins associated with JIA. Like DMARDs, they may be useful when other treatments are ineffective.
- Physical therapy: Physical therapy can be a useful way to manage symptoms such as pain and stiffness and improve a child’s ability to carry out routine daily activities. It can be used in combination with medication to maximize its effects.
- Complementary therapies: Complementary therapies such as massage and acupuncture may help manage pain and stiffness and reduce stress and anxiety. Although there is not much evidence to support these therapies, many people find them helpful, especially in combination with other treatments.
- Cold and heat packs: Cold and heat packs can help to soothe pain and reduce stiffness. Experiment with both to find out which is most helpful for your child.
How Can Parents Help Their Children?
There are many ways that parents can support kids with arthritis. They range from ensuring they take their medication on time to encouraging healthy lifestyle adaptations. Some of the most crucial examples include:
- Attending all medical appointments and closely following your physician’s instructions.
- Taking medication exactly as directed by your physician.
- Monitoring treatment responses and informing your physician about any significant changes.
- Reporting any new symptoms or changes as soon as they occur.
- Helping your child balance rest and exercise. It is important to rest when the disease is active and exercise during periods of remission to maintain flexibility and strength.
- Ensuring your child eats a healthy and balanced diet. The Mediterranean diet includes lots of healthy fats, fresh fruit and vegetables, and whole grains. It is considered one of the best diets for managing inflammation.
- Discussing your child’s condition with their school and cooperating with teachers to ensure they have the educational support they need.
- Learning as much as you can about juvenile idiopathic arthritis and staying up-to-date with the latest research.