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6 Surprising Facts About Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis

You expect your child to get aches and pains from time to time—they are a normal part of childhood. But what if there’s no obvious cause for the pain?

In many cases, symptoms could be related to an illness, injury or growing pains, but sometimes the aches and pains could be symptoms of juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA).

While arthritis is often thought of as an “old person’s disease,” nearly 300,000 children and young adults have some form of arthritis. And JIA is the most common type of arthritis that typically causes joint pain and inflammation in the hands, knees, ankles, elbows and/or wrists—even other body parts as well.

Sarah Blankenheimer, a family nurse practitioner with Banner – University Medicine Rheumatology Institute in Phoenix, AZ, reveals six facts you should know about this chronic condition.

1. JIA isn’t diagnosed easily or quickly.

Unfortunately, JIA isn’t easy to diagnose right away and can often be mistaken for other ailments or conditions.

“JIA is a diagnosis of exclusion, meaning other causes need to be ruled out, such as infection or malignancy,” Blankenheimer said. “In order to be diagnosed with JIA, a child must be under the age of 16 and symptoms must be present for at least six weeks, as some forms of arthritis can come and go within a few weeks.”

2. There are many different types of JIA.

“JIA is an umbrella term for a group of further classified disorders,” Blankenheimer said.

There are six main subtypes of JIA that affect children and teenagers:

  • Systemic arthritis: Affects the whole body and is accompanied by a pink rash and fever
  • Polyarthritis (with or without rheumatoid arthritis): Affects five or more joints and is the most common form of JIA
  • Oligoarthritis (persistent or extended): Affects four or fewer joints
  • Enthesitis-related arthritis: Affects where tendons attach to the bone, often the leg and spine
  • Psoriatic arthritis: Affects joints and is accompanied by a scaly rash behind the ears, on the eyelids, knees, elbows and scalp
  • Undifferentiated arthritis: One that doesn’t fit the above categories or fits into more than one of them

3. The cause for JIA is unknown.

The cause (or etiology) of JIA is unknown, but as with most autoimmune diseases, “genetic or environmental factors may play a role,” Blankenheimer said.

4. JIA is different from rheumatoid arthritis.

Because JIA was previously known as juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, many people assume JIA is simply a child version of adult rheumatoid arthritis (RA). However, this is not the case.

While children can be diagnosed with RA, it is rare. JIA is a group of chronic arthritis disorders, whereas RA is a single condition.

“It is uncommon for a child under 10 to have markers for rheumatoid arthritis, but when they are older, these markers may show up and help with the diagnosis of RA,” Blankenheimer said.

5. There is no cure for JIA, but children can achieve remission.

Without a cure for JIA, doctors aim to put children in remission – long periods of little to no disease activity or symptoms. This period could last several months, years or a person’s lifetime.

“Remission really depends on the type of JIA a child has and their response to treatment,” Blankenheimer said. “Early and effective treatment is the best way to improve the chances of remission.”

6. Most children with JIA can play sports.

As long as their disease is under control, most children with JIA can play sports. In fact, more children with JIA are participating in sports these days thanks, in large part, to better treatment options that have helped improve their functional abilities.

Physical activity is important for any kid, but exercise has unique benefits for kids with JIA. In addition, physical therapy and occupational therapy can also help improve a child’s quality of life by teaching them ways to stay active and improve coordination and balance.

“If your child has been diagnosed with a type of JIA, consider the need for physical and/or occupational therapy, which can be provided through the public school system,” Blankenheimer said.

Find a rheumatologist near you

If your child has recently been diagnosed with JIA, you may have lots of questions and concerns. Our pediatric rheumatology specialists are here to help. To find a specialist near you, visit bannerhealth.com.

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