Arthritis in kids? Here's how to treat it

Arthritis can affect kids as young as six months old. We find out the causes and treatment 

Arthritis in kids? Here's how to treat it

It’s a common misconception that arthritis only affects the elderly. Kids as young as six months old can be diagnosed with juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA).

“The word ‘idiopathic’ means that the cause of this condition is unknown,” says Dr Humeira Badsha, consultant rheumatologist and JIA board member at the Middle East Arthritis Foundation.

“A child’s immune system malfunctions for unknown reasons, attacking the body and especially the joints. They then experience joint pain and swelling, with stiffness, especially in the morning.”

While JIA primarily affects joints, it can sometimes also impact other organs including the eyes, heart, skin, lungs or liver. The main difference between juvenile and adult arthritis is that some children with JIA outgrow the illness, while adults usually have lifelong symptoms. Studies indicate that, by adulthood, symptoms disappear in more than 50 percent of affected children.

Another difference is that JIA may affect growth and bone development in children, unlike adult arthritis.

“Traditionally, a child complaining of occasional achy joints would be dismissed as having ‘growing pains’, a vague phenomenon believed to be the result of the natural growth process,” adds Dr Badsha.

“However, parents should be aware that joint pain needs to be taken seriously when accompanied by swelling, morning stiffness, fatigue or illness, as these could be early warning signs of inflammatory rheumatic disease. Look out for these.”

Other symptoms include limping, the inability to perform recetly-learned motor skills and a spiking fever.

“If you suspect JIA, it’s best to visit a paediatric rheumatologist at the earliest opportunity, as they would be able to rule out other conditions,” explains Dr Badshi.

Unfortunately, no definitive cures have been found for the disease, but medical treatment and lifestyle changes can ease symptoms and prevent damage to joints. Regular exercise plays a big role in the management of JIA. A child’s physiotherapist or doctor can advise on the right way to stay fit as the wrong type of exercise can cause more pain.

Make sure you inform school staff and coaches so that an allowance be made for JIA in everyday situations.

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