Diagnosing juvenile arthritis can be difficult because, unlike adults, children show negative rheumatoid factor blood tests. Therefore, diagnosis is made using patient medical history, physical symptoms, and the exclusion of other diagnoses.
Several types of juvenile arthritis fall into the juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA) category, which includes chronic joint inflammation. To be considered JIA, the symptoms have to last for more than six weeks and appear before the child is 16.
Juvenile arthritis occurs when the body’s immune system attacks its own cells. Doctors are still not sure why this happens or what exactly causes it, but both genetics and environment appear to play a role.
Arthritis in children is treatable, but unfortunately it has no cure. The main goal is to control symptoms and prevent further damage and disease progression. A team of specialists, including rheumatologists, nurses, and physical therapists, work with children and their families to make life easier and avoid making the disease worse. Social workers will often join the team to reach out to schools, daycares, or support groups to ensure the best possible care is provided.
If the symptoms are otherwise managed or mild, pain medications can be the only prescriptions needed. However, doctors might prescribe oral steroids to control joint swelling and protect the joints from further attacks. Should the steroids not work, sometimes disease-modifying drugs (DMARDs) are used to slow the progression and further joint damage. Research is still being done to develop new and more effective treatments for juvenile arthritis.
Doctors recommend that children live their lives normally – go to school, play sports, enjoy extracurricular activities – because it will foster an easier transition into adulthood. Physical activity and therapy can help increase range of motion and reduce pain.
To get information on this important issue, visit The Arthritis Foundation at http://www.arthritis.org/about-arthritis/types/juvenile-arthritis/.