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All about juvenile idiopathic arthritis

Michelle Maffei is a freelance copywriter covering a variety of topics both online and in print, from parenting to beauty and more. Combining her two favorite loves, writing and motherhood, she has found joy in even the most challenging ...

The invisible pain source in children

Juvenile idiopathic arthritis, or JIA, is a debilitating joint disease that can knock kids down for the count long before their golden years. From what JIA is to what doctors can do, find out how JIA affects kids under 16 years old.
Tween girl in pain

What is juvenile idiopathic arthritis?

According to Ronit Arginteau of Ateevia Botanica, juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA) occurs when a malfunction in a child's immune system causes it to attack the body's healthy cells and tissues, targeting the lining of the joint and resulting in inflammation and possible joint damage. But, just like with rheumatoid arthritis, the reason the immune system malfunctions is unknown, leaving young JIA sufferers without answers.

While doctors do know that juvenile arthritis can be hereditary, the condition rarely strikes more than one family member, says Arginteau. "Research suggests that some individuals may have a genetic tendency to develop JIA, but develop the condition only after exposure to an infection or other unknown trigger. Genetic, hormonal, environmental and infectious factors may be involved, although no clear trigger has been consistently identified."

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Types of JIA

There are several types of juvenile idiopathic arthritis, each causing different levels of discomfort. The Department of Pediatrics Division of Pediatric Rheumatology at NYU Langone Medical Center reports that the following types of JIA can affect children:

  • Oligoarticular juvenile idiopathic arthritis: OJIA is the most common form of juvenile arthritis and affects four or fewer joints.
  • Polyarticular juvenile idiopathic arthritis: Less common than OJIA, poly-JIA affects five or more joints, often including joints in the fingers.
  • Systemic onset juvenile idiopathic arthritis: Often categorized by daily high fevers, a salmon-colored rash and arthritis, this rare and severe form of JIA makes kids very ill.
  • Psoriatic arthritis: Marked by chronic arthritis and psoriasis, a scaly rash, this subtype of JIA often follows a family history of psoriasis.
  • Enthesitis-related arthritis: Also called spondyloarthropathy, chronic arthritis is accompanied by inflammation of the ligaments around the joints, causing even more pain.

What doctors can do about juvenile arthritis

While there is not currently a cure for JIA, doctors can help address the pain and discomfort of juvenile arthritis. "The conventional overall treatment goal has been to control symptoms, prevent joint damage and maintain function," explains Arginteau. "The first line of treatment involves an analgesic or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) [such as] acetaminophen [to] ease the pain and stiffness caused by JIA. However, their effectiveness varies.

"A secondary approach to JIA is the more dangerous use of disease modifying drugs, commonly called DMARDs, which are added as a second-line treatment when arthritis does not respond to NSAIDs," she says. NSAIDs include prescription drugs such as Rheumatrex and Humira, but come with risks of significant side effects. Short-term use of steroids, both injected or taken orally, may also help ease the pain of JIA. But when it comes to kids, clarifies Arginteau, the preferred approach to managing the pain associated with juvenile arthritis is to alter your child's diet and encourage therapeutic exercise, along with risk-free over-the-counter medications.

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As tough as JIA is on a child, the families of children with juvenile arthritis suffer as well. "It's [the diagnosis that] made us more patient, that's for sure, and grateful that we have the doctors and the medicine that are available to him," shares Linsey Hyatt, mother of 5-year-old Tucker Beau. "But it's hard day-to-day knowing that one of your children has an incurable disease." However, just because your child has joint pain doesn't mean JIA is the culprit. Whether or not your child has all of the symptoms of juvenile idiopathic arthritis, or you just suspect something is ailing your youngster, seek the advice of a pediatrician immediately.

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