Arthritis in children (juvenile arthritis)
- What is juvenile arthritis?
- How common is arthritis in children?
- How is juvenile arthritis caused?
- How is juvenile arthritis diagnosed?
- How is juvenile arthritis treated?
- What signs of the disease should I look for in my child?
- What can I do to help my child cope with juvenile arthritis?
- What does the future hold?
What is juvenile arthritis?
Juvenile arthritis is the umbrella term for the types of arthritis which occur in children. Children may develop a juvenile form of arthritis any time after birth. In children, these diseases may be quite different from those affecting adults.
How common is arthritis in children?
It is estimated that as many as 5,000 children in Ireland have some form of arthritis. Most children will lead a full and active life, with proper care. Many children suffer short-term arthritis in the aftermath of a viral or bacterial infection. Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis is the most common form of arthritis and persists for years.
How is juvenile arthritis caused?
It is unclear what causes the disease, although it is suspected that genetics and environmental factors may trigger the development of the disease.
How is juvenile arthritis diagnosed?
Your child will be referred to a specialist centre for tests. It is important that more serious diseases are ruled out so your child may have to undergo a number of tests and x-rays.
How is juvenile arthritis treated?
- A range of drugs are available and your doctor will discuss these with you. Often painkillers suffice.
- Occupational therapy, splints and a regular exercise programme in the home can help treat the disease.
- Occasionally a child will require an operation to remedy the tendons of the hip or knee, for example.
What signs of the disease should I look for in my child?
Signs are different in each child sometimes the disease will flare up, in other cases the children will have symptoms that never go away.
The most common signs include:
- Unexplainable swollen, painful and stiff joints, which persist over a period of time.
- Limping first thing in the morning because of an affected knee.
- Swollen lymph nodes, situated in the neck.
- Eye inflammation sometimes occurs, so bring your child for regular eye tests as a preventative measure.
What can I do to help my child cope with juvenile arthritis?
- Juvenile arthritis can restrict a child's participation in social activities. To minimise this, you could explain the condition to your child's teacher, who could arrange alternative activities during physical education.
- Children with juvenile arthritis should be encouraged to live a normal life. Be empathetic to your child but do not pamper as this may be unhelpful.
- Always follow your doctor's instructions and make the visits to the doctor or to the hospital as pleasant as possible for the child.
- Encourage your child to exercise by devising a fun home programme.
- Consider joining a support group. Most people find speaking to other parents with similar problems very helpful.
- Reaffirm your child of their talents and individuality.
What does the future hold?
This depends on the pattern of arthritis present, its duration and the degree of damage that has occurred. Usually the prognosis is very good for children with just a few joints involved. With proper therapy children with all forms of arthritis will usually improve over time. Indeed the vast majority of children with arthritis grow up to lead normal lives without significant difficulty. Even for severe cases, with appropriate medication, proper physical and occupational therapy, or surgery if necessary, a good quality of life is attainable.
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