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Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis: What Parents Should Know

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The month of July is dedicated to juvenile arthritis awareness. Although several types of arthritis can affect children and teens, the most common form is juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA). Typically, children diagnosed with JIA range from 2 to 5 years old, however, adolescents diagnosed with JIA can range anywhere from 18 months old to 16 years old.

Symptoms of JIA 

There are multiple symptoms of juvenile idiopathic arthritis. Generally, JIA symptoms will be centered around the child’s joints rather than organs such as; the kidneys, lungs, intestines, and heart. The knees, ankles, elbows, wrists, and small joints in the hands are the most common joints to be affected. While the symptoms of JIA will vary among each child, there are some common symptoms that most children experience. These symptoms include:

  • Stiffness: Patients with JIA will generally experience stiffness during the morning hours or after being inactive for an extended amount of time. Stiffness caused by arthritis will typically improve throughout the day or with physical activity and the ability to bend and straighten joints can be limited in children with JIA.
  • Pain: Children with JIA will often experience pain in their joints during the morning hours. Much like stiffness, this pain can improve with physical activity. Many children with JIA experience mild pain and they may not complain about their discomfort, especially during the early stages of their disease.
  • Swelling: Swelling is the most common symptom of patients with JIA. When a patient with juvenile idiopathic arthritis experiences swelling, it does not go away after a day or two. The swelling will slowly persist and get worse over time.
  • Limping: Limping is a very common symptom in children, especially when they are too young to express their discomfort. Arthritis affecting the feet, hips, knees, and ankles can lead to limping.
  • Function Change: Changes in function such as; having trouble writing, not holding a spoon normally, or not playing and climbing can be a sign of JIA. Children with JIA can learn to find ways to make up for their pain and discomfort and learn to do things in non-conventional ways.

JIA Diagnosis

It is important to understand that many factors go into diagnosing JIA and there is no lab that specifically diagnosis it. To come up with a JIA diagnosis, your child’s pediatrician will perform a careful physical examination and review your child’s symptoms and medical history. Often, your child will need to provide blood work and/or x-rays, ultrasounds, and MRIs. The best way to get an accurate diagnosis is by documenting your child’s symptoms and communicating them with their doctor.

JIA Treatment

Treatment for JIA revolves around controlling the inflammation of the joints. Your child’s pediatrician will suggest you work closely with a pediatric rheumatologist who will understand how to create a functioning treatment plan for your child. Some common treatments include:

  • Injecting a steroid into the joints being affected by arthritis.
  • Taking medication that targets the whole immune system.
  • Going to physical therapy so that the child with JIA can regain motion and strengthen the muscles in their joints that may be affected by arthritis.

Does JIA go Away? 

Although JIA does not essentially “go away”, many children can go into what doctors call “remission”. Some children can go into permanent remission while others will need to continue treatment into adulthood. It is difficult to know which children will go into permanent remission and which will not however, with medical advances today the prognosis of JIA in children has improved, giving adolescents a level of comfort and clarity for their health.

If you have questions or concerns regarding your child’s health or if they are experiencing symptoms of Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis, know that we are here for you! Contact our office at 561-275-7100.

 

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