Rheumatoid Arthritis Symptoms in Children

By Christine Lehman

  • Overview

    The most common type of arthritis afflicting the nearly 300,000 children who have arthritis is rheumatoid arthritis. Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (also called juvenile idiopathic arthritis) has some of the same symptoms as adult rheumatoid arthritis, but is a very different disease.
  • Identification

    Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, just like adult rheumatoid arthritis, is an autoimmune disease. The body's immune system recognizes its own cells as foreign and begins to attack them. In cases of rheumatoid arthritis, the cells under attack are connective tissues like bones, tendons, muscles and ligaments. The joints can swell and become painful and eventually the bones can begin to wear away.
  • Types

    There are three major types of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (or JRA). Oligoarticular JRA affects no more than four joints. Symptoms include pain, stiffness, or swelling in the joints, most commonly the knees or wrists. Additionally, the colored part of the eye (the iris) can become inflamed. Polyarticular arthritis affects five or more joints and may be accompanied by a low-grade fever. This type of arthritis affects girls more often than boys. Systemic JRA affects the entire body. Children with this type of RA can have high, spiking fevers that can go up at night, making them feel very ill and go down in the daytime as the child returns to normal. Lymph nodes can become swollen in addition to the joints.

  • Symptoms

    The early signs of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis may be subtle and include a swollen joint, a spiked fever that disappears quickly, or a rash that shows up intermittently on different parts of the body. These symptoms can also be mistaken for other disorders such as Lyme's disease and can often be dismissed because many doctors do not immediately think to look for arthritis in children.
  • Diagnosis

    Blood tests can confirm the presence of rheumatoid arthritis. Factors such as rheumatoid factor, ANA, sedimentation rate, and citrulline antibodies are all present or elevated in many patients with rheumatoid arthritis. The more quickly juvenile rheumatoid arthritis is diagnosed and treatment begins, the greater the chance the disease will not progress as much.
  • Treatment

    The treatment for rheumatoid arthritis in children is similar to the treatments adults undergo. Two types of medications are common. Anti-inflammatory drugs can reduce the swelling (and the associated pain) within the joints as well as reduce fevers. Other medications can slow the progression of the disease itself, but must be taken under the supervision of a rheumatologist. Exercise or physical therapy can keep the joints mobile and the body strong.
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