What is Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis?
Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis is a chronic inflammatory condition that causes swelling, stiffness, and pain of the joints. It can affect one or many joints and if left untreated can lead to irreversible joint damage. There are several types of JIA. Some can have other associated symptoms including fevers, rashes, or eye inflammation (uveitis).
The medical community doesn’t know exactly what causes juvenile idiopathic arthritis. Research shows it is an autoimmune disease. In autoimmune diseases, white blood cells lose the ability to tell the difference between the body’s own healthy cells and harmful invaders like bacteria and viruses. The immune system, which is supposed to protect the body from these harmful invaders, instead over-reacts and releases chemicals that can damage healthy tissues and cause inflammation and pain.
Signs and symptoms
The first signs of arthritis can be hard to see or very easy to see. Signs may include limping or a sore joint. Joints may suddenly swell and remain big. Stiffness in the neck, hips, or other joints can also occur. There are different types of arthritis. By knowing which type of arthritis your child has, you can help your child maintain an active, productive lifestyle.
To effectively manage and minimize the effects of arthritis, an accurate diagnosis is essential. Your doctor has referred your child to a pediatric rheumatologist (doctors specializing in joint disorders). To determine if your child has JIA, the doctor will take a detailed medical history and do a physical examination. He or she may also order X-rays or blood tests. JIA is diagnosed when the other possible causes of arthritis are excluded, such as cancer or infection.
In many cases, JIA may be treated with a combination of medication, physical therapy and exercise. Your child’s health care team which includes your primary care physician, rheumatologist, nurse practitioner, nurses, physical therapist, occupational therapist and social worker will work together with you to develop the best method of treatment for your child.
The goals of treatment are to relieve pain and swelling, prevent long-term damage to the joints, optimize use and function of the joints to promote optimal growth, physical activity, and social and emotional development in your child.