Childhood Joint Pain: An Introduction To Juvenile Arthritis

Juvenile arthritis, also known as juvenile idiopathic arthritis, is the most common form of arthritis in children. Juvenile arthritis can occur in both boys and girls at any age, but symptoms most commonly begin during the toddler or early teen years. The cause of juvenile arthritis is still unknown, although theories suspect that it can have both genetic and environmental factors.

Symptoms of juvenile arthritis can be joint inflammation, joint contracture (which is a stiff, bent joint), joint damage and/or a change in growth. Other symptoms are joint stiffness or decreased activity level. The degree with which juvenile arthritis affects children varies by the symptom. The first signs are often joint pain or swelling and reddened or warmed joints.

Juvenile arthritis affects approximately 300,000 children in the United States. There are three types of juvenile arthritis: pauciarticular juvenile arthritis, polyarticular juvenile arthritis, and systemic onset juvenile arthritis. Of the 300,000 juvenile arthritis sufferers, half of these patients have pauciarticular, 40% will have polyarticular and 10% will suffer from systemic onset.

Polyarticular juvenile arthritis affects five or more joints. It tends to affect girls more than boys. In this type, the small joints of the hands are affected along with the weight-bearing joints, like the knees, hips, ankles, feet and neck. It may also be characterized by a low-grade fever or bumps and nodules on the body.

In pauciarticular juvenile arthritis, four or less joints are affected. Symptoms for this type include pain, stiffness or swelling in the joints. The most common joints affected are the knee and wrist joints. A sufferer's iris may also experience inflammation called iridocyclitis or iritis.

Systemic juvenile arthritis is the most serious, as it affects the entire body. It is characterized by arthritis, fever and a pink rash. Both the rash and fever may have sudden onset then suddenly just disappear. Systemic juvenile arthritis may have internal organ involvement and can lead to serositis. The spleen and lymph nodes may also become enlarged.

Juvenile arthritis may be treated with a combination of medication, physical therapy and exercise. Corticosteroids have also been injected into the joint in some situations. Surgery is occasionally an option, as well. Since there is no cure, the goals of treating juvenile arthritis are to relieve pain and inflammation, slow down or prevent the destruction of joints and restore use and function of the joints so that the child can have optimal growth, physical activity, and social and emotional development.

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