A guide to juvenile arthritis

October 05, 2009

When someone mentions arthritis, it instantly brings to mind the image of an old person, withered and bent over, with a walking stick in their hand. What most people do not realise is that arthritis is not an old person’s disease; it could happen to any one of us, including little children.

Arthritis in children, also known as juvenile arthritis, affects close to three hundred thousand children below the age of seventeen. Girls are affected twice as often as boys. Juvenile arthritis is classified differently from arthritis in adults. This is because the course of the disease is a little different in kids. Children experience different symptoms and the chances of their recovery are greater.

Juvenile arthritis is one of three types. These are polyarticular juvenile arthritis, pauciarticular juvenile arthritis and systemic juvenile arthritis (sometimes called Still’s disease). Each type has its distinct pattern of symptoms and affects different joints. Polyarticular disease is a disease of many joints, Pauciarticular disease is a disease of few joints, while systemic disease can affect internal organs and parts of the body other than joints also.

The problems of arthritis-afflicted children are slightly different from those of adults suffering from the disease. Children may not be able to identify the cause of their discomfort. Conversely, they may know that they are in pain, but not understand how to express it, or even that it needs to be brought to light. Living with pain may seem like the only way of life for them. In such cases, the parents, caretakers and teachers are crucial in the identification of the illness. They need to keep their eyes open for any difficulties their child may have in moving their joints. For instance, a physician should be consulted if the child has considerable difficulty in walking or climbing the stairs.

Living with arthritis can be trying for the affected child and the people around him. Children may try to deny that anything is wrong and may indulge in more activity than is good for them. They may not realise the importance of taking medication regularly and may feel like they’ve gotten a sore deal in life. Parents can often be overly concerned with protecting their children thus preventing them from growing up normally.

What can you do to help an affected child? There are two simple steps that you can take to ensure that your child emerges healthy from this disease:
1. Talk to your child: Education about the disease and the understanding that the prognosis for children is positive, can help children to cope with their disease and encourage them to take their medicines regularly.
2. Encourage appropriate physical activity: Playing sports and indulging in recreational activities is important for the child to have confidence in his abilities. Yet, the child should be guided by a parent or therapist when playing so as to protect his joints maximally. Activities like swimming are ideal since they do not strain the muscles too much. Although some sports may be off-limits for a child with juvenile arthritis, regular exercise and physical therapy should be a part of his routine. This will keep their joints mobile and their muscles strong. If you are worried, you can use protective equipment to reduce the risk of injury.

Remember, there is hope yet; juvenile arthritis has a favourable prognosis. Early diagnosis of the disease and regular intake of medication can lead to a happy, pain-free future for the child.

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