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7/27/21blog post

7 common symptoms of arthritis in kids

Arthritis. You may tend to think of it as something that only affects the older population. The conditions that fall under JA affect nearly 300,000 kids and teens in the United States. As part of Juvenile Arthritis Awareness Month we're bringing you all the facts and symptoms. 

what is juvenile arthritis?

Juvenile arthritis (JA) isn’t a specific disease, it’s a term to describe the inflammatory and rheumatic diseases that develop in children under the age of 16. Most types of JA are autoimmune or autoinflammatory diseases. Normally the immune system fights off viruses and germs, but in a child or teen with JA, their immune system gets confused and attacks healthy cells and tissue. This can cause joint inflammation, swelling, pain and tenderness.  The exact causes of JA are unknown, but it is believed that certain genes may cause JA when activated by a virus or bacteria.

what is the most common type of juvenile arthritis?

Juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA) is the most common type of arthritis in kids and teens. Formally known as juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, it is an autoimmune or autoinflammatory disease that causes joint pain and inflammation in the hands, knees, ankles, elbows and/or wrists. It can affect other body parts too.

what are the symptoms of juvenile idiopathic arthritis?

JIA symptoms may come and go. Periods of time when a child experiences lots of inflammation and worsening symptoms are called flares. Flares can last for days or months. The most common symptoms of JIA include:

  1. Joint pain or stiffness
  2. Red, swollen, tender or warm joints
  3. Fatigue (feeling tired)
  4. Blurry vision or dry, gritty eyes
  5. Rash
  6. Loss of appetite
  7. High fever

do all children with JIA experience the same symptoms?

No, symptoms and areas affected are specific to the type of arthritis a child has. There are six types of JIA:

  • Oligoarthritis – the most common type of JIA. Affects four or fewer joints with pain, stiffness or swelling
  • Polyarthritis – affects five of more joints and occurs in about 25% of kids and teens with JIA
  • Systemic – affects the whole body and may cause fevers, rashes and enlarged spleen and lymph nodes
  • Psoriatic arthritis (PsA) – a scaly red rash that can start behind the ears, on the eyelids, elbows, knees or scalp
  • Enthesitis-related – inflammation where tendons join bones
  • Undifferentiated – symptoms don’t match up perfectly with any subtype, but inflammation is present in one or more joints

how is juvenile idiopathic arthritis treated at Dayton Children’s?

Currently there are believed to be only 420 board-certified, practicing pediatric rheumatologists in the United States and at least nine states lack a practicing pediatric rheumatologist altogether. Dayton Children’s division of rheumatology is fortunate to have not one, but two board-certified pediatric rheumatologists on staff.

Our providers understand that rheumatic disorders in children are much different than in adults. Kids have different social and emotional challenges, and their bodies are continually growing to create a unique set of challenges.

If your child is experiencing symptoms of JIA, our providers will perform a physical exam to look for joint tenderness, swelling, warmth and painful or limited movement. They may also test your child’s range of motion and ask you questions about your child’s medical history. If necessary, your child’s rheumatologist may order blood tests to look for certain proteins and chemicals found in some people with arthritis.

There is no cure for JIA, but your child’s symptoms can be managed with medicines, therapies and healthy lifestyle changes. Treatment will vary based on your child’s diagnosis and the severity of their arthritis. You child’s rheumatologist will work with you, your child and other specialists at Dayton Children’s to create a comprehensive plan of care that addresses all your child’s symptoms.

If your child is experiencing symptoms commonly experienced in juvenile idiopathic arthritis you should talk to their primary care provider or schedule an appointment with one of our pediatric rheumatologists.

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Dustin Fleck, MD

division chief rheumatology
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