Juvenile Arthritis Awareness Month

Juvenile Arthritis July
Over 300,000 children fight arthritis every single day.

July is Juvenile Arthritis Awareness Month, an opportunity to become aware that adults are not the only ones who get arthritis -kids do too!  Arthritis is a blanket term for joint pain or joint diseases, commonly found in knees and wrists but may occur in other parts of the body also.  Nearly 50 million adult Americans are affected by these diseases and over 300,000 children.

JRA was once the blanket term for kids diagnosed with Arthritis. It is now understood that there are multiple forms and each form has its own genetic marker. Anyone under the age of 16 who has inflammation or stiffness may be at risk for a diagnosis of Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis (JIA). Children may complain of their wrists, knees and ankles being stiff and “hard to move”, the pressure may “come and go”.  When symptoms get worse, a flare up is occurring and this may last up to several weeks.  These symptoms include:

  • Anemia
  • Chronic fever (103 F or higher)
  • Pink rash, may come and go
  • Eye inflammation
  • Joint pain
  • Joint stiffness
  • Limping, uneasy feeling
  • Decreased activity or movement
  • Issues with bone development or growth

Causes and Genetic Advances

Pediatric Doctors often get the question “How did my child get arthritis?” Some progress has been made in understanding the relationship which stems between Genes and possible environmental factors.  In short, this autoimmune disorder is due to a weak immune system that attacks healthy cells and their tissues, resulting in uncomfortable inflammation and destruction of tissue. Scientists are unsure of the primary cause, but know JA may be related to genetics or a virus that triggers the inflammatory process.

With your help thru generous donations, researchers are now improving the ability to study genetic markers. The (HLA) Human Leukocyte Antigen is believed to play a role in fighting infections and developing autoimmunity. They are also looking at specific proteins which help the body distinguish between its own cells and external invaders like viruses.  Other genetic markers have also been identified and researched leading to specificity of the diagnosis.  What this means, is by early identification of the marker genes, an improved approach to treatment can take place. Fewer to no more trial-and-error treatments. By identifying the right maker your child’s treatment becomes tailored to their specific needs.  At the very least this shortens the time it takes to get inflammation and pain under control allowing a healthy and graciously lived life for you child.

Diagnosis & Treatment

Blood work and a physical exam will be performed, including imaging scans to help discover what specific type of arthritis your child may have. These can be performed by your pediatrician.  A Rheumatologist may also be called on or recommended to assist if symptoms are more severe.  Once the correct diagnosis is determined a medication regimen will be set up. Every child is different, and it is important that the treatments are specific to your child’s needs. The family and child will benefit from getting educated on what to expect and by joining JA community groups.

Talk with your pediatrician about non-meditational ways to supplement and address pain and improve mobility and diet. A few suggestions would be:

  • Physical therapy to get your child moving and stimulate joints, bones and muscles
  • Acupuncture
  • Yoga
  • Aromatherapy and deep breathing
  • Tai Chi
  • Massage
  • Natural modalities such as heat and cold and increasing anti-inflammatory foods like organic berries.
  •  Minimize sugar intake.
  • Adequate water intake.

Your kids are warriors – get involved as a family – start a “Health Log Book”,

  • Create (1)a page with the body where when flairs occur your child can draw on the areas, color might describe the feeling.
  •  Create (2) a page listing Medications, the weather, what he or she did the last 24-48 hours, what foods they ate, any physical symptoms besides joint and muscle pain.
  • Create (3) a page on recovery-when your child started to feel better, note possible changes in medication, changes in the weather, activity levels and even foods and happy things.
  • Make blank copies of the pages for easy of consistency and place them in a notebook. By creating a workbook, a sort of informational picture may begin to form which helps you and your child learn to manage the ebb and flow of the arthritis.

Check out other ways to raise awareness of Juvenile Arthritis this month:

Every day is a challenge with JA, especially daily activities like monkeying around on the playground. Visit your primary care physician if your child is experiencing a recurrent combination of symptoms. Find more information at Kids Get Arthritis too.