Arthritis is often thought of as a disease that only affects grownups, but in fact, about 100 in 1 lakh kids have it (Medscape 2019).
Aches and pains are normal part of childhood which can make this condition difficult to diagnose and hence people may lack its awareness. Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis (JIA) is a form of arthritis which affects children! As children with JIA reach their adulthood, they may face many problems such as – continuation of disease activity, medications related side effects, lifelong disability, emotional burden and social dysfunction. Hence, early recognition by parents is a matter of utmost importance. Because it is under-diagnosed, it is very crucial to make people aware of seriousness of JIA.
July being Juvenile Arthritis Awareness month, which is a campaign initiated by the Arthritis Foundation and having experience in treating JIA kids, today, I aim to spread awareness about JIA in order to improve quality of life of all JIA kids in long term!
What is it?
Juvenile- it affects children younger than 16 years of age
Idiopathic- it has no known cause
Arthritis- causes redness, warmth and swelling in and around joints
- It lasts for more than 6 weeks with an unpredictable clinical course.
- JIA is the most common form of juvenile arthritis (juvenile arthritis is an umbrella term which includes all inflammatory and rheumatic diseases).
- It can also have impact on various body systems, causing limitations and restrictions in daily activities in a growing kid.
What are the symptoms?
- Symptoms are variable in each child with flare-ups (symptoms worsen) and remissions (symptoms improve or disappear).
Most common symptoms include:
- Joint pain, stiffness
- Swollen, warm and red joints
- Blurry vision
- Appetite loss
- Growth problems
- Swollen lymph nodes
You should see your family physician if you experience above symptoms who may refer you to pediatric rheumatologist (doctor specialized in managing arthritis and related conditions). Diagnosis will be confirmed with detailed medical history, International League of Association for Rheumatology (ILAR) diagnostic criteria along with various diagnostic tests: C reactive protein test, Rh factor test, HLA B27 test, ESR and imaging studies: MRI scans, x-rays.
There is no definite cure for JIA but controlling flare-ups/achieving remissions is possible. The long term outcomes have improved in last decades due to advanced diagnostic techniques and extensive research in treatment options. Ultimate goal is to improve quality of life which is achieved by holistic approach adopted by a multidisciplinary team that includes pediatric rheumatologist, physiotherapist, occupational therapist, dietician, social worker, psychologist etc.
What about its treatment?
- Your rheumatologist is the right person to prescribe medicines to relieve your symptoms.
- Surgery of any kind is rarely required for it.
- Exercise/physical therapy to improve quality of life of the child.
How does physiotherapy help?
Since there is no definite cure for JIA, the focus should be on improving the quality of life of the child to let the child live life to the best possible level in long term. Staying active is the key! And Physical therapy (PT) exactly does it all, along with the medications.
PT helps in-
- Pain reduction
- Improving mobility (to reduce stiffness), muscular strength and stamina by prescribing appropriate exercises.
- Aerobic conditioning
- Trains and supports the child in participation of age appropriate activities considering child’s clinical condition.
- Educating family members to support them in taking care of child with JIA.
Lastly, I would like to introduce you to an American golf champion, Kristy McPherson who was confined to bed at the age of 11 due to Juvenile arthritis, now is an inspiration to 3,00,000 kids with Juvenile arthritis in America. She fought against all odds, worked with medicines and physical therapy eventually to achieve remarkable success as pro golfer. She wants other kids and adults with arthritis to have a chance of productive and painfree life.
So..for all those parents/caregivers taking care of their beloved ones or having someone who is suffering from JIA..the message is–
Active lifestyle with appropriate guidance is important!
Stay strong with strong will power and hope!
Appreciate yourself for going against all odds with JIA!
So let all of us extend support to all those in need by sharing this post to spread awareness and empower them to live life to the maximum!
Dr. Bhakti Dhanu (MPT)
Consultant Orthopaedic Physiotherapist