By Diane Forrest, RN
Juvenile arthritis affects children of all ages and ethnic backgrounds. About 294,000 American children under age 18 have arthritis or other rheumatic conditions. The most common symptoms of juvenile arthritis are joint swelling, pain, and stiffness that doesn’t go away. Usually it affects the knees, hands, and feet, and it’s worse in the morning or after a nap. Other signs include:
- Limping in the morning because of a stiff knee
- Excessive clumsiness
- High fever and skin rash
- Swelling in lymph nodes in the neck and other parts of the body
- Most children with arthritis have times when the symptoms get better or go away (remission) and other times when they get worse (flare).
- Arthritis in children can cause eye inflammation and growth problems. It also can cause bones and joints to grow unevenly.
There is no easy way a doctor can tell if your child has juvenile arthritis. Doctors usually suspect arthritis when a child has constant joint pain or swelling, as well as skin rashes that can’t be explained and a fever along with swelling of lymph nodes or inflammation in the body’s organs. To be sure that it is juvenile arthritis, doctors depend on many things, which may include:
- Physical exam
- Family history
- Lab tests
- X rays.
A team approach is the best way to treat juvenile arthritis. It is best if a doctor trained to treat these types of diseases in children (a pediatric rheumatologist) manages your child’s care. However, many children’s doctors and “adult” rheumatologists also treat children with arthritis.
Other members of your child’s health care team may include:
- Physical therapist
- Occupational therapist
- Counselor or psychologist
- Eye doctor
- Dentist and orthodontist
- Bone surgeon
- Social worker
- Rheumatology nurse
- School nurse.
Doctors who treat arthritis in children will try to make sure your child can remain physically active. They also try to make sure your child can stay involved in social activities and have an overall good quality of life. Doctors can prescribe treatments to reduce swelling, maintain joint movement, and relieve pain. They also try to prevent, identify, and treat problems that result from the arthritis. Most children with arthritis need a blend of treatments – some treatments include drugs, and others do not.
Juvenile arthritis affects the whole family. It can strain your child’s ability to take part in social and after-school activities, and it can make schoolwork more difficult. Family members can help the child both physically and emotionally by doing the following:
- Get the best care possible.
- Learn as much as you can about your child’s disease and its treatment.
- Insist that your child take the treatment.
- Consider joining a support group.
- Treat your child as normally as possible.
- Encourage exercise and physical therapy for your child.
- Work closely with your child’s school.
- Talk with your child.
- Work with therapists or social workers
July is Juvenile Arthritis Awareness Month. To learn more about it and ways you can help, visit this site: http://www.arthritis.org/juvenile-arthritis.php