When Arthritis Affects Children

Arthritis is often thought of as an affliction for older adults—or at least those who are middle-aged—so the term "juvenile arthritis" may strike some as a contradiction.

But inflammatory arthritis, which occurs when the immune system attacks the body's joints, knows no age restrictions and can affect very young children and even infants.

Mother and Daughter
No one knows what triggers arthritis in children, but experts suspect genes are part of the cause.

JIA and Other Types of Juvenile Arthritis

The most common type of juvenile arthritis is known as juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA). This type is divided into subcategories depending on how many joints are affected (oligoarticular versus polyarticular) and whether symptoms exceed 6 months or not.

Children with just a few joints affected—often the knees—have the greatest chance of having JIA subside entirely as they age.

Other types of juvenile arthritis include:

  • Juvenile dermatomyositis (JDM)
  • Juvenile lupus erythematosus
  • Juvenile scleroderma
  • Kawasaki disease (KD)
  • Juvenile mixed connective tissue disease

See full descriptions of the types of juvenile arthritis.

Symptoms of Juvenile Arthritis

The symptoms of arthritis in children are often confused with other illnesses or simply chalked up to “growing pains,” so it can be very hard to diagnose. Parents often need to be persistent in taking note of symptoms and working with their child’s doctor to reach a diagnosis.

Because there are multiple types of juvenile arthritis, symptoms can vary or be specific to just one type. For example, Kawasaki disease is known to cause a strawberry-colored and shaped tongue.

Article continues below
Advertisement

However, there are a few common symptoms that appear frequently in those with any type of juvenile arthritis:

    Joint pain and stiffness: This can be particularly bad first thing in the morning, before the child has gotten out of bed and started moving.

    Inflammation: Joints that are swollen and/or warm to the touch are a hallmark of arthritis. Inflammation may persist or it may come and go.

    Fever: Fevers and fatigue without any accompanying illness are a sign of arthritis.

    Rashes: Children commonly get rashes as a result of allergies or conditions like eczema, but if a child has a rash on the knuckles, face, hands and feet, or chest that doesn't seem to be connected with another cause, this may be a sign of arthritis.

    Eye problems: JIA can cause an inflammation of the eye called uveitis, which may cause red eyes, vision problems, or no symptoms at all. However, it can cause permanent vision problems without treatment, so it's important for children with JIA to have their eyes checked.

Grandpa and Boy Hiking
Children with juvenile arthritis benefit from exercise, which keeps their joints flexible.

Treating Juvenile Arthritis

Once a child has been diagnosed with juvenile arthritis, his or her care team can set up a treatment plan. Each treatment plan is unique, based on a child’s specific type of arthritis and symptoms.

Treatment will probably involve options for relieving pain—such as medications and possibly alternative treatments like massage therapy—and also exercise and physical therapy to maintain joint flexibility and range of motion.

The care team for your child may also involve a pediatric rheumatologist, who has special training in treating children with inflammatory conditions like arthritis.

There is no cure for juvenile arthritis, but the condition may eventually subside in some children. Even when it persists, there are treatment options to relieve pain and inflammation.

Learn more

Post written by Carrie DeVries