Arthritis in children

Many people assume that arthritis is a condition which only affects adults but it occurs in children as well. Most types of arthritis develop in middle aged and older people but there is a particular form of arthritis which develops in children.

This is known as juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA). Around 1 in 1,000 children in the UK are affected by JIA.

(Source: NHS Choices/arthritis).

There are several versions of this condition which along with JIA are discussed further in this section.

There is another form of arthritis known as ‘Enthesitis related arthritis’ which is discussed in a separate section.

If you are the parent of a child who has arthritis or who has recently been diagnosed then this section is aimed at you.

It discusses arthritis in children as follows:

  • Coping with the diagnosis of arthritis in your child
  • What causes arthritis in children?
  • Symptoms of arthritis in children
  • Diagnosing arthritis in children
  • Treating arthritis in children
  • Support for parents of children with arthritis

Coping with the diagnosis of arthritis in your child

As a parent, it can come as a shock to be told that your child has arthritis but you may also feel a sense of relief as well. If your child has been ill for some time with these symptoms then you may be glad to have a confirmation of the diagnosis. Although for many parents this is often unwelcome news.

A child with arthritis will have differing needs to those of an adult and as a parent, your concern is what these needs are and how they will be addressed. You will want to know more about your child’s condition and the effect this will have on them both physically and psychologically.

You will also want to determine the effect this will have on their quality of life.

Most parents will try and find out as much as they can about their child’s arthritis so that they can find the best ways of looking after them. This means doing research, searching online and talking to others. Find out as much as you can as this will help when devising a care plan for your child.

What causes arthritis in children?

This is difficult to pinpoint in the same way it is difficult to determine the causes of adult forms of arthritis. But genetics appears to play a part as does a viral infection.

Children develop arthritis due to an over-reaction by their immune system. Their immune system turns upon the cells in their body and attacks them causing a range of symptoms which we know as arthritis.

A good way of thinking about this is as an autoimmune disease in which the immune system responds to an imagined threat by attacking healthy cells and tissue in the body.

Symptoms of arthritis in children

These include painful, swollen joints, stiffness and fatigue. Many children with arthritis find that they have unexpected weight loss, develop skin rashes and a fever.

Anaemia is another common symptom.

Diagnosing arthritis in children

Your GP will ask you (or your child) about their symptoms before performing a physical examination. This is followed by a series of tests such as X-rays, scans and blood tests.

The results of this will decide the treatment your child receives.

Treating arthritis in children

Treatment for children with arthritis is similar to that for adult sufferers. It includes medication such as painkillers, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAID’s), physiotherapy and/or occupational therapy.

Your child will be encouraged to exercise as this will help to ease the symptoms as well as ensuring that their joints develop as normal. The aim is to avoid any serious problems which may remain with them for the rest of their life.

This treatment is designed to relieve the symptoms as well as targeting the cause of the arthritis. It also focuses on preventing the condition from spreading to other joints in the body.

In regard to treatment: you have the choice of NHS or choosing private treatment for your child. The advantages of private treatment are a quicker diagnosis and access to treatment but this can be expensive.

You will receive a good standard of care via the NHS although you may have to wait for this.

If you have private medical insurance then check your policy to see if this includes any cover for children with chronic conditions such as arthritis.

Support for parents of children with arthritis

It can be upsetting to learn that your child has arthritis and it is not unusual to feel angry or resentful at this decision. Many parents think ‘why is it my child?’ but the thing to remember is that there is no logical reason for this.

Some parents blame themselves or assume that they could have prevented this. They feel as if they are to blame but the facts remain that arthritis is indiscriminate in whom it affects.

The good news is that many children with this arthritis do recover and with a few minor effects.

Plus you are not alone in this. There is help and support available to parents of children with arthritis which is often invaluable. This help includes:

  • The Source (via the Arthritis Care website)
  • The Children’s Chronic Arthritis Association (CCAA)
  • National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society (NRAS)

The healthcare professionals involved in your child’s treatment will help you to control the symptoms of your child’s arthritis. Plus they can suggest treatments and ways of managing at home.

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