We all have heard about arthritis, a disease that causes swelling and pain in joints. It is a disorder that we have come to believe only old people get. The reality is that it can affect anyone at any age, even the very young. One such example of arthritis is called juvenile arthritis and affects children as young as six months old. The news for parents can be confusing, unexpected and hard to believe.
Nearly 500,000 children in USA suffer from some type of arthritis. The condition can last for several weeks or months and then go away no to come back again; or it can last for months or years. In some rare cases, it can last for a lifetime. There are many types of juvenile arthritis, but the most common is Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis - or JRA - and it affects more than 50,000 in the USA alone.
It is not known exactly what causes juvenile rheumatoid arthritis yet. Research tells us that it is a malfunction of the immune system (autoimmune disease), where blood cells lose the ability to tell the difference of healthy cells and anything pathogenic like viruses and bacteria. This confusion triggers the immune system to release chemicals that would otherwise be intended for an enemy and, as a result, can damage healthy tissue create pain and cause inflammation. Another possibility is that a virus may trigger the disease when a child has certain genes that make it susceptible in developing JRA.
Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis can begin with high temperature, rush and/or a swollen joint such as a knuckle and pain in 4, 5 or more joints. There are several types and an early and accurate diagnosis is essential. Understanding symptoms and characteristics for each type it helps to take the appropriate action to support and help a child recover as well as possible and maintain an active and productive life. Diagnosis of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis by your child's doctor will usually begin with a detailed medical history and physical examination. The doctor may take X-rays and perform blood tests to be able to differentiate your child's JRA symptoms from other conditions that produce similar symptoms.
Three major types of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis are:
Polyarticular arthritis - Polyarticular arthritis is more prevalent with girls than boys. Symptoms are swelling or pain in 5 or more joints such as the neck, knees, hips, feet and ankles accompanied with a low-grade fever.
Pauciarticular JRA - Pauciarticular arthritis affects up to 4 joints. Symptoms are pain, stiffness and swelling in the joints. The most commonly affected joints are the wrists and knees.
Systemic JRA - This form of JRA affects the entire body. Symptoms include high temperature that suddenly drops to normal to only go up again later. The child may feel very ill, pale and develop a rash that may appear and disappear very quickly many times. The lymphatic nodes and the spleen can also become enlarged. The heart is another organ that also could be troubled; and many of the joints become swollen, stiff and painful.