Is Your Child Just Clumsy, Or Could It Be JRA?
When one thinks about arthritis, they may picture an older person with achy joints. It may surprise most people to find out that children can also suffer from arthritis.
Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis, or JRA for short, is actually fairly common in children under 16.
According to the Rheumatoid Arthritis Support Network, as many as 300,000 children have been diagnosed with arthritis.
Children are naturally energetic and active beings. It can be especially troubling to a parent if they see their child suffering symptoms of joint pain or stiffness.
Here we will explore what the various signs and symptoms of Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis are, and how you will know if it is time to take your child to see a doctor that specializes in treating JRA.
Watch this video for an introduction to what to expect with JRA.
What is an Autoimmune Disease?
In order to understand how Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis works and affects the body, one must first understand what an autoimmune disease is.
JRA is one example of an autoimmune disease. Others include lupus, psoriasis and, multiple sclerosis.
The immune system is comprised of organs, tissues, and cells that help fight off infection.
Every day we are exposed to hundreds, if not thousands, of harmful viruses and bacteria. Our immune system helps protect us against getting sick due to these foreign invaders.
Sometimes the immune system gets confused and can’t tell the difference between the healthy cells and the bad ones.
When this confusion happens, the body attacks itself instead of the foreign invaders.
In the case of JRA, the body attacks tissue that surrounds the joints, which in turn cause joint pain.
What Causes JRA?
According to the Arthritis Foundation the exact causes of JRA, and autoimmune diseases, in general, are not exactly known.
There is much research being done on autoimmune diseases because they are still somewhat of a mystery to medical professionals.
There may be a genetic factor that helps to determine whether or not an individual will develop JRA.
Some research has shown that certain environmental factors increase the risk of developing JRA when paired with a genetic predisposition.
According to the Rheumatoid Arthritis Support Network, some of these factors are bacteria, air pollution, smoke, and insecticides.
What are the Symptoms of JRA?
JRA is an autoimmune disease in which the body attacks healthy joint tissue. This causes joint pain, swelling, and stiffness.
It can make doing normal tasks seem more difficult. Most people experience pain in their hands and feet, but JRA can affect other parts of the body.
Like most diseases, each individual will experience symptoms differently. Some children may have all or just a few of the symptoms which will be discussed below.
If you see the following signs and symptoms developing in your child, it might be time to see a doctor.
Your Child Will Experience Joint Pain
Children usually seem to have endless supplies of energy. They seem to be able to bounce back from anything and everything fairly quickly.
So when we hear our children complaining about joint pain, it can be incredibly alarming.
JRA commonly affects the joints in the fingers, hands, and feet. You may notice that your child complains that their hands hurt.
They may even have difficulty holding a pencil or fork. The pain may be worse shortly after they wake up in the morning.
Kidshealth.org notes that there are different types of JRA that correspond to the number of joints that are affected.
Children who have four or fewer joints that are painful have oligoarthritis. Children who have oligoarthritis often complain that their knees hurt.
Polyarticular arthritis affects five or more joints, most commonly in the hands.
Familydoctor.org notes that polyarticular arthritis is more common among girls and that joints on both sides of the body will equally be affected. It is possible that polyarticular arthritis goes away as the child ages.
Children who have JRA do not constantly experience symptoms. They usually go through periods where their symptoms are worse, called flare-ups, followed by periods in which they experience no symptoms, called remission.
In less common instances, children can develop systemic JRA in which the whole body is affected.
Fevers are Common in Children with JRA
Children who have JRA may be more prone to getting frequent fevers. Autoimmune diseases impact the body’s ability to fight infection, making those who have them more susceptible to getting sick. Mayo Clinic points out that in children with JRA, fevers may be worse at night.
Your Child Will Experience Joint Stiffness
Kids, especially the young ones, are often not the most coordinated bunch. If you notice that your child is more clumsy than normal, you may want to have a talk with them about possible joint stiffness.
Joint stiffness is a very common symptom of Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis. The immune system attacks the healthy tissue surrounding the joints causing inflammation. The inflammation leads to joint stiffness, making it difficult for the child to move.
Many children report that their joints are most difficult to move after long periods of rest.
The mornings may be hard for a child with JRA and they might take longer getting ready for school because they are in pain.
While at school, it may take them a while before they can comfortably hold their pencil or do their school work.
Are Your Child’s Joints Hot to the Touch?
Swelling of the joints is typical in children who are diagnosed with Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis due to inflammation of the joints.
If your child complains of joint pain, the joint in question may feel warm. This can last for several days.
Children play rough and can get hurt easily. A child who has a swollen ankle due to an injury will likely feel better with some over the counter pain relievers, rest and ice to bring down the swelling. Unfortunately, these tactics do not often work for children who have JRA.
The skin outside their joints, on their knees, hands or feet, may also appear to be irritated.
The skin might have a pinkish hue. One tell-tale sign that your child may be suffering from JRA is if they complain about swelling or paint on their knees.
You may notice that your child has trouble playing with their friends or practicing sports. JRA can make physical activity more challenging for children.
It is time to see a doctor when your child’s symptoms begin to interfere with normal, daily activities such as playing or doing homework.
Look For These Less Common Symptoms
Children with JRA may develop rashes, as they are common with autoimmune diseases.
Pay close attention to where the rash is located, as a sign that it might be related to JRA is if the rash covers their knuckles or lies across their face.
The rash can last for quite a while, it will likely not clear up with over the counter medications.
It is important to pay close attention to how many of these symptoms your child experiences.
If they experience weight loss or lose their appetite in combination with joint pain, swelling or stiffening then it is worth a visit to the doctor to rule out JRA. Weight loss by itself can be caused by many other issues.
The Symptoms are Not Just Physical
Living with any debilitating disease can often take a toll on the individual’s mental health. Children are very much influenced by their peers.
If your child sees their friends performing activities that are difficult for them, they may start to get anxious.
While they may not be able to articulate their feelings well, children with JRA can become depressed.
Look out for signs of depression such as prolonged periods of sadness or a lack of interest in activities that once excited your child.
Living with an illness that limits their mobility may impact their self-esteem. It is important to work with your child and look for ways to boost their self-esteem.
Seek advice from a mental health professional if you suspect your child has developed anxiety or depression due to JRA.
Your Child Can Still Be Happy and Healthy Living With JRA
Many of these signs and symptoms can be caused by other factors. As a parent, it is important to be vigilant in examining your child’s behavior patterns to determine if there is a need for medical intervention.
While there is no cure, children living with JRA can still lead very healthy and active lives.
Many of these symptoms can be managed with medication and therapy. A doctor may prescribe Non-steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAID’s)or corticosteroids to help control joint inflammation and pain.
Some other treatment options include physical therapy to help your child increase their flexibility and strength.
Physical therapists will be able to recommend specific exercises for your child based on their individual symptoms.
Many physical therapists will also recommend keeping your child engaged in sports or other physical activities.
Regular exercise is important in staving off flare-ups and keeping your child as healthy as possible.
A healthy diet rich in calcium will also help manage the symptoms of JRA. If you suspect your child has Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis, consult with a rheumatologist.