What is it?
Juvenile arthritis is an autoimmune disease which affects the lining of the joints in children under 16 years of age. It is estimated that 1 in every 1000 children has some kind of juvenile arthritis and more girls than boys develop the condition.
There are different kinds of juvenile arthritis, including:
- Oligoarticular arthritis – the most common form of juvenile arthritis where only four or less joints are affected in the first six months. It often begins in children between 2 and 4 years of age and usually impacts large joints like knees and ankles.
- Polyarticular arthritis – is the name given to the condition where five or more joints are affected in the first six months and is likely to start between 1 and 12 years of age. This type of arthritis is more common in girls than boys.
- Systemic onset arthritis – the least common form of juvenile arthritis where many areas of the body are affected, including joints, skin or internal organs. It can cause a fever and rash and affect children of any age and both genders equally.
- Enthesitis related arthritis – refers to the condition where the tendons that attach to the bone (entheses) get inflamed. It usually affects a few joints only, typically the legs, knees and ankles. It is more common in late childhood and adolescence and impacts more boys than girls.
- Psoriatic arthritis – refers to the condition which occurs in association with the skin condition Psoriasis. It usually starts in preschool-aged children or at around 10 years of age. It commonly affects more girls than boys and the severity of the arthritis may or may not be related to the severity of the Psoriasis.
- Unclassified arthritis – a condition which does not fit in with any of the above.
What causes it?
There are no known causes of Juvenile Arthritis. As with any autoimmune condition, the body mistakenly believes that a normal part of the body is foreign and starts attacking it. In Juvenile Arthritis, the joints will be affected.
What are the symptoms?
Pain, swelling, stiffness and warmth around the inflamed joints is common. However, sometimes these symptoms may not appear in the joints affected. Less common symptoms include fever, a rash, anaemia or vision problems.
How is it diagnosed?
A number of tests including X-ray, blood tests, physical examination, bone scans and eye exams can help diagnose and determine the exact type of juvenile arthritis.
An early diagnosis usually means a more positive outlook for the child.
What are the treatment options?
A combination of medications, specific exercises to keep the joints moving, splints to support the joints and injections to reduce inflammation may be recommended. A team consisting of paediatric rheumatologists, general practitioners, nurses, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, dieticians, podiatrists, psychologists and social workers may be involved in the child’s treatment.
The amount of time required for treatment differs from child to child, depending on the severity of the condition.
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