Aching joints know no age and are not the limited to the elderly domain
Hearing our grandparents complain of achy knees, hands and backs does not come as a surprise to most of us because we think their “old joints” have all the right to crack and be stiff. But for a child who should be running and playing around to be complaining of pain and stiffness in the joints and limping, many would say, “The kid is way too young to have arthritis.”
Juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA), formerly known as juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (JRA), however, is a reality wherein one child in every 10,000 children in the world is given this diagnosis each year. The term “idiopathic” means its cause is unknown.
JIA is a chronic disease that causes joint pain, swelling, stiffness and limitation of motion with onset of symptoms at age less than 16 years old. It is autoimmune in nature, wherein certain cells of the immune system do not function properly and these cells cause inflammation and damage in the joints.
There are three types of JIA, in contrast to the rheumatoid arthritis (RA) of adults, which is a single entity.
The first type, pauciarticular JIA, which affects four or fewer joints, most commonly the knees and ankles. It may also involve inflammation in the eyes especially in younger children.
Polyarticular JIA, the second type, affects five joints or more, and involves both small and large joints. This particular type most closely resembles adult RA.
The third type is systemic JIA, the type unique to children. A child with systemic JIA may have, along with the arthritis, high spiking fevers that last for weeks to months, enlarged liver/spleen/cervical lymph nodes, or a pink rash that appears with fever.
While it is true that there is still no cure for JIA, just like asthma or diabetes, there are a lot of treatment options available to ameliorate arthritis and its other symptoms. These medications relieve pain, suppress inflammation and keep the immune system in control. Children may respond differently to these medications but remission is definitely possible in majority of patients.
To recognize that JIA is one of the most common causes of permanent disability in children is the first step towards the goal of achieving early diagnosis and treatment. Likewise, it is important to be aware that not all children with JIA will have the same symptoms and that there is no specific blood test to confirm that a child has JIA.
Therefore, it is best for parents or guardians to bring any child with prolonged joint pain and swelling, especially if associated with other symptoms, to the doctor for appropriate evaluation.