The facts about juvenile arthritis

You may think of arthritis as something that only impacts older adults, but one in 250 American children have been diagnosed with this condition.

More than 300,000 American children are impacted by some form of arthritis. When someone younger than age 16 develops an autoimmune or inflammatory condition under the arthritis umbrella, it’s termed “juvenile arthritis.”

Know someone who’s affected by juvenile arthritis? Read on for a look at some facts about the condition.

Juvenile arthritis fact 1: It’s not just one condition.

We know we referred to it as a condition above. But that’s a misnomer. You see, juvenile arthritis is what’s known as an “umbrella term,” meaning it covers a number of different conditions rather than just one.

The term is used to describe any of the arthritic conditions that can impact children and adolescents younger than 16. Juvenile arthritis can impact many parts of the body, including the muscles, GI system, skin and eyes.

Juvenile arthritis fact 2: There are seven main types.

The types of juvenile arthritis are:

  • Juvenile idiopathic arthritis, which is the most common form of arthritis and has six subtypes. In this condition, the immune system attacks the body’s tissues, causing joint inflammation.
  • Juvenile lupus, which is an autoimmune disease that can affect all areas of the body, including the joints, kidneys, blood and skin.
  • Kawasaki disease, which can cause blood-vessel inflammation, leading to heart complications.
  • Juvenile dermatomyositis, which is an inflammatory disease that causes muscle weakness and a skin rash.
  • Mixed connective tissue disease, which blends symptoms of arthritis, lupus, dermatomyositis and scleroderma.
  • Fibromyalgia, which is a chronic pain syndrome that leads to discomfort, fatigue and sleep issues, among other symptoms.
  • Juvenile scleroderma, which is a group of conditions that cause the skin to tighten and harden.

If any of these conditions sound familiar, it’s because they also occur among adults. In children, the symptoms may manifest themselves the same as with adults or differently, depending on the condition.

Juvenile arthritis fact 3: The cause is uncertain.

With most types of juvenile arthritis, there’s no known cause.

While it might seem that toxins, foods or allergies are to blame when a child develops a type of arthritis, no research has found that to be the case.

Some studies, though, found that there may be a genetic predisposition to juvenile arthritis, meaning a person’s genes may place him or her at increased risk.

Juvenile arthritis fact 4: Children of any age can be affected.

Juvenile arthritis affects nearly 300,000 children in the United States — and it doesn’t discriminate by age.

Children of any age can be diagnosed, but it rarely affects infants age 6 months and younger.

Juvenile arthritis fact 5: There’s no cure.

Like with arthritis in adults, there’s no way to cure juvenile arthritis once it develops. But there are treatment methods that can help mitigate the symptoms and put a condition into remission.

The goal of juvenile arthritis treatment is to alleviate symptoms, including inflammation and pain, and improve a child’s overall quality of life.

Depending on a child’s individual needs and symptoms, treatment may include medication, eye health services, and recommendations for lifestyle habits, including being physically active and eating a healthy diet.

How to help a child with juvenile arthritis

One of the best things you can do if your child is diagnosed with a form of juvenile arthritis is to maintain a positive mindset.

The diagnosis is only the beginning of a new journey.

Work with your child’s doctor to teach your child why it’s important to stick to the treatment plan. This includes taking medications as prescribed and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

Beyond this important step, teach your little one about self-care. Because the mind impacts the body, it’s key to take good care of both when managing a chronic condition like arthritis.

Talk with your child about different kinds of self-care, including meditation, rest, exercise and other stress-relieving activities. And don’t just talk about it — practice what you preach! Your example is important when setting your child up for success, both now and in the future.

If your child is experiencing joint pain or any other symptoms common with arthritis, your first stop should be your pediatrician. He or she can then refer you to a rheumatologist if necessary. Learn more about University Rheumatology Associates here.