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Arthritis is not just a disease of old people
Although arthritis is often associated with older people, it can sometimes also affect children. Unfortunately about one in a thousand children in the United Kingdom suffer arthritis. It can strike at any age, and take one of several forms. What is similar about the disease, is the pain and frustration that affects the child, and the feeling of disbelief that affects the whole family.
Most types of childhood arthritis are referred to as juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA). JIA causes pain and inflammation in one or more joints for at least six weeks. Although the exact cause of JIA is unknown, the symptoms often improve as a child gets older, allowing them to lead a normal life.
The main types of JIA are discussed below.
Oligo-articular JIA is the most common type of JIA. It affects four or less joints in the body, most commonly in the knees, ankles and wrists.
Oligo-articular JIA has shown good recovery rates and long-term effects are rare. However, there is a risk that children with the condition may develop eye problems, so it is recommended that they have regular eye checks.
Polyarticular JIA (polyarthritis)
Polyarticular JIA, or polyarthritis, affects five or more joints. It can develop at any age during childhood.
The symptoms of polyarticular JIA are similar to those of adult rheumatoid arthritis. The condition is often accompanied by a rash and a high temperature (fever) of 38C (100.4F) or above. As well as pain and stiffness in joints other symptoms include tiredness and eye inflammation.
Systemic onset JIA
Systemic onset JIA is a type of arthritis that begins with systemic symptoms such as fever, rashes, lethargy and enlarged glands. Early signs are often mistaken for an infection. Other symptoms include joint and muscle pain, skin rash and tiredness. The most common age for the condition to start is before five years.
Like polyarticular JIA, systemic onset JIA can affect children of any age.
Enthesitis-related arthritis is a type of juvenile arthritis that affects older boys or teenagers. The condition can cause pain in the soles of the feet and around the knee and hip joints where the ligaments attach to the bone.
How is JIA treated?
Treatment for children with arthritis is usually much the same as for adults, but the problems which crop up in everyday life can be very different. Children with arthritis need to lead as ordinary and full a life as they can. Keeping school and social life going is extremely important, although there may be a need to find some alternative social activities.
Exercise is especially helpful and a lot of children with arthritis benefit enormously from swimming. Above all, young people need to be part of their own age group and not be seen as different.
If you are either a child or parent of a child suffering from arthritis there is a charity that can offer help and support. The Children’s Chronic Arthritis Association (CCAA) is the leading charity run by parents and professionals to provide help and information for children with arthritis, their families and professionals involved in their care. They offer emotional and practical support to maximize choices and opportunities and raise awareness of childhood arthritis in the community