Childhood is that special time of life to explore the pure joy of running, jumping and exploring, stretching out limbs and kicking up heels. But for a child suffering from the condition of Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis (JIA), these typical activities can be a challenge. Arthritis affects millions of people worldwide, with one in five people in the UAE suffering from the illness. However, even with such high statistics, the condition is surrounded by many misconceptions, one of the biggest ones being that arthritis only affects the elderly. The Middle East Arthritis Foundation (MEAF) is working hard to bring more exposure to JIA, which is the most common kind of arthritis amongst children and teenagers. Through its work it engages with patients and their families to get a better understanding of their clinical, economic and social needs.
JIA, an inflammatory auto-immune disease, presents itself as swollen, painful and stiff joints which, over time, can cause damage to the cartilage and bone. In simple terms, the condition causes the body to become confused, leading the immune system to attack the body’s healthy tissue. Dr.Ghita Harifi, a Rheumatologist with the Humeira Badsha Medical Center, tells us that the best way of managing JIA is to be aware of the symptoms. “JIA is a chronic condition that can last for many years,” she explains. “However, many children with juvenile arthritis can see a full recovery from the disease. Obviously, the disease’s progression is different for each patient, but the JIA prognosis can depend largely on how early symptoms were detected, when a diagnosis was made, and how soon treatment was started. Joint damage may occur in some cases and bone growth may be altered in some patients with possible growth retardation and delayed puberty.”
Dr. Harifi outlines the key things for parents to look out for in their little ones: “Early diagnosis and treatment is the key for better outcomes. While there’s no definite cure, available therapeutics can ease the symptoms of JIA and prevent damage to joints,” she says. She lays out the main symptoms as:
• Joint stiffness, especially in the morning.
• Pain, swelling, and tenderness in the joints.
• Limping (in younger children, the child might seem unable to perform motor skills he or she recently learned).
• Spiking fever that often increases in the evenings and then may suddenly drop to normal.
• Skin Rash, typically a salmon-coloured rash that appears during fever spikes and disappears quickly afterwards.
For some JIA patients, taking medications like ibuprofen or naproxen are sufficient to reduce inflammation and relieve its symptoms. Other patients need to take stronger weekly medication medications which modulate the immune system and control the disease very efficiently. For flare-ups management, doctors may also use cortisone, also called corticosteroids or steroids (such as prednisone). MEFA supports ongoing research in clinical treatments, which will go on to give suffers a better quality of life.
And in the long-term, what is the prognosis for a child with the condition? There are a number of ways things can go, according to Dr. Harifi.
“There are different scenarios in terms of outcomes; symptoms may disappear in childhood and not return in adulthood, long periods of remission can be reached but the disease may flare up occasionally, treatment progressively improves symptoms and restores range of motion and mobility, and, in the worst case, symptoms may continue into adulthood and will need to be continually treated and managed,” she says.