Arthritis is commonly thought of as a condition that only affects older people. However, there are many different types of arthritis, some of which affect babies, children, teenagers and young adults. Juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA) is the name given to a number of types of arthritis that occur in children.
In Australia about 6000 children are affected by arthritis (JIA) making it as common as Type 1 diabetes in children under 16 years of age. Another 4,000 children are affected by other rheumatic conditions (conditions which affect the joints, bones, cartilage, tendons, ligaments and muscles).
Living with arthritis and other rheumatic conditions can be challenging not only for the child or young person affected, but also for their families and friends. Support is vital, as is understanding.
What are the main symptoms?
Your child may have experienced one or more of these symptoms:
- joint pain, swelling, tenderness, stiffness, redness and warmth
- fatigue (tiredness and lack of energy), fevers, loss of appetite or weight, and generally feeling unwell
- skin rashes
- inflammation of the eyes (uveitis) and other organs of the body in some forms of the disease.
JIA can affect just one joint or several and any joint in the body may become inflamed but the joints most commonly affected are the knees, hips, hands and feet.
JIA symptoms can fluctuate – meaning they may vary from day to day, week to week. There will be times when symptoms are worse – these are called ‘flares’ – and then times when they are in remission.
The outlook for children with JIA is usually very positive. The good news is that most children with JIA will not have active symptoms by the time they become adults.
What causes it?
The causes of arthritis in children are not yet fully understood.
We do know that JIA is an autoimmune condition. This means the body’s immune system (its protective mechanism against infection) starts to mistakenly attack healthy cells of the body. This happens for reasons we don’t yet understand, possibly after being triggered by a virus or bacterial infection. The immune system fails to ‘turn off’ when the infection has been cleared producing ongoing joint inflammation. The immune system mistakenly attacks cells in the connective tissues, including the lining of the joints (synovium). JIA can also affect connective tissues in other parts of the body.
Finding out your child has arthritis
Finding out that your child has arthritis can be a confusing and anxious time.
Your child’s diagnosis may have come as a huge shock, or perhaps it has been a long, difficult journey to find out the cause of their symptoms. A child being diagnosed with arthritis was never part of a family’s plans. The condition not only impacts the child with arthritis, but also parents, siblings and extended family members. You will undoubtedly have lots of questions about what this means for your child, your family and the future. Please use the following resources to assist you.
JIA Info Booklet: Finding out your child has arthritis
Practical Tips for JIA: managing at home, school, play and away
JIA Teachers Guide: Download here
Arthritis Infoline: call us for information & support on 1800 011 041.
Juvenile Arthritis Online Parents Support Group: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1671853906377379/
(Private Facebook group – must request to become a member)
The Juvenile Arthritis Foundation Australia (JAFA) – national voice dedicated exclusively to representing and addressing the needs of children and young people with juvenile arthritis and childhood rheumatic diseases and their families and carers.