Author: Michaela Wachal, Clinical Pharmacist
Many people don’t realize arthritis affects people of all ages, not just adults. July is National Juvenile Arthritis Awareness Month. This month is a time to raise awareness and education about juvenile arthritis.
Over 300,000 kids in the U.S. are living with juvenile arthritis, according to the Arthritis National Research Foundation. That means one out of every 250 children is living with joint swelling, pain and other arthritis symptoms.
Juvenile Arthritis Conditions
Juvenile Arthritis (JA) is not one specific disease. Instead, JA is a general term used to describe numerous inflammatory conditions that share common arthritis symptoms. Juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA) is the most common type of juvenile arthritis but there are other conditions classified under juvenile arthritis. For more information about the different types of juvenile arthritis, visit the Arthritis Foundation website.
Arthritis is often found in the knees, hands and feet but symptoms can appear at any joint. JA can also affect internal organs, eyes and growth patterns. Arthritis in children has unique challenges as kids grow and their bodies develop. However, children diagnosed with JA generally live normal lives.
Juvenile Arthritis Diagnosis
Children under the age of 16 can be diagnosed with JA but it’s not always easy to diagnose. Symptoms can be hard to detect but you may notice your child limping in the morning or reducing his or her activity level. If you suspect JA, your doctor will run some tests. It can be hard to distinguish between different types of JA conditions. Knowing about your child’s specific diagnosis, however, can help manage the symptoms.
JA is always considered “juvenile” arthritis, even when children mature into adulthood. Kids with JA do not grow out of their arthritis but the symptoms can be managed. In some cases, people with JA can be in remission for long periods of time.
Juvenile Arthritis Treatment
It’s important to help children diagnosed with JA understand their condition and how to manage it. If inflammation from JA is not treated, it can cause damage to cartilage, bones and organs. There is no cure for JA but when managed well, JA may go into remission. After a JA diagnosis, talk with your child’s doctor about a treatment plan. JA treatment often focuses on relieving pain and making sure your child has the best possible quality of life. Typically, JA treatment includes eye care, exercise, healthy lifestyle choices and medication.
Eye Care and Juvenile Arthritis
Children with JA should get regular eye exams. Sometimes the same inflammation that affects your child’s joints can cause vision problems. One common vision complication for children with JA is called uveitis. This condition is linked to inflammation in part of the eye, such as the iris. It’s hard to notice if your child is struggling with eyesight, so be sure to schedule an appointment with the eye doctor.
Many parents wonder about sports and other physical activity after their child is diagnosed with JA. Exercise is an important part of managing JA. Physical activity builds strong muscles and joints, which helps your child stay healthy. In some activities, special accommodations may be needed for a child with JA, especially while they’re learning to manage their arthritis. In many cases, however, kids are able to play safely and comfortably. Talk with your doctor if you have any questions or concerns about your child participating in sports and activities.
Healthy Lifestyles with Juvenile Arthritis
Healthy eating habits help keep children with JA strong and healthy. Sometimes it’s painful for kids with JA to cut vegetables or open a jar of peanut butter. This may make children more likely to avoid certain foods and lose key nutrients in their diet. You can make it easier for them to get the nutrition they need by buying pre-cut vegetables and easy to use containers. It may be beneficial to talk with a doctor or a registered dietitian about your child’s nutrition needs.
Juvenile Arthritis Medication Management
Medication management can make it easier to treat JA. It’s important to follow your prescription, taking the right dose at the right time. Children diagnosed with JA may be on medication for a long time. Help them understand the importance of staying on schedule and taking their medication as directed. Work with your child’s doctor and pharmacist to help manage any potential medication side effects.
Juvenile Arthritis Specialists
If your child is diagnosed with JA, remember that you are not alone. In addition to support groups and JA resources, you will benefit form a team of knowledgeable medical professionals. Your child’s physician will be an important part of JA treatment, but it may be helpful to meet with a specialist. Pediatric rheumatologists specialize in childhood arthritis. In addition to a rheumatologist, you may meet with an eye doctor, physical therapist, mental health professional and other medical specialists.
Many of the medications used to manage JA are considered specialty medications. Hy-Vee Pharmacy Solutions (HPS) is a specialty pharmacy experienced in managing JA and other complex conditions. Clinical pharmacists are available 24/7 to answer all your questions and help you manage medication side effects. HPS patients can also speak with registered dietitian Megan Hall for questions about nutrition and JA.