Arthritis affects as many as 4.6 million Canadian adults and is a condition that we often associate as part of the aging process. While this is somewhat true, arthritis can actually occur in individuals of all ages, including children. When a child is diagnosed with arthritis, it is referred to as Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis (JIA). Currently, an estimated 1 in 1,000 (that’s approximately 10,000) Canadian children and teenagers are living with Juvenile Arthritis today.
Now, you’re probably wondering what the difference is between the average, everyday arthritis diagnosis and Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis. The term “juvenile” refers to the fact that the individual diagnosed is young (typically those aged 16 or younger), the term “idiopathic” means of unknown origin or cause, and the term “arthritis” refers to inflammation of the synovial membrane which lines the joints (such as the knees and ankles.)
Symptoms of Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis are very similar to that of an adult diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, though it will affect each child differently and symptoms can change in severity from day to day. The most common symptoms that a child with JIA may experience include joint and muscle pain, stiff joints, as well as swelling of the joints. Certain forms of JIA and related disorders/diseases can also cause skin rashes, fatigue, fevers, and even eye-related complications. Symptoms also vary depending on the type of arthritis your child has been diagnosed with, and there are at least 6 other categories, including Juvenile Dermatomyositis, Juvenile Lupus, Juvenile Scleroderma, Kawasaki Disease, Mixed Connective Tissue Disease, and Fibromyalgia – all of which affect the muscles, bones and joints, as well as other parts of the body such as the skin, and internal organs such as the kidneys. You can find more detailed information on these JIA-related conditions here.
As mentioned, arthritis can affect anyone, but there are certain types of arthritis that adults can be diagnosed with that children cannot, and vice versa. For example, rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. While there’s still a chance that children could be diagnosed with either of these forms of arthritis, it is a rare occurrence and not something that is often seen.
When it comes to Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis, early diagnosis is key. In fact, if diagnosed early enough, nearly 80% of all JIA cases become inactive and no other signs of the disease are present. However, if left untreated or diagnosed too late, there may be permanent damage done which can cause long-term problems throughout a child’s life and well into adulthood. Getting early treatment is also crucial in preventing that permanent damage from occurring. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (also known as NSAIDs) are commonly used to treat Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis. These types of medication help to ease pain, reduce swelling, and decrease stiffness. In addition to medications, doctors also usually recommend children get light to moderate exercise in every day or as many days as their bodies allow (depending on the severity of their symptoms.) It’s also helpful if your child maintains a healthy weight. Along with these tips, children can also benefit from seeing a physiotherapist or occupational therapist to help preserve function of the joints and minimax long-term damage.