Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis in Children

By Christine Lehman

  • Overview

    Arthritis affects approximately one in every 1,000 children. Of the different types of arthritis that children can have, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis is the most common. Just like adult rheumatoid arthritis, juvenile RA is an autoimmune disease for which there is no cure.
  • Definition

    Like adult rheumatoid arthritis, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease with no cure. 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 effects of rheumatoid arthritis are felt mostly in the joints. The space between the bones in the joint can swell up and fill with fluid, making the joint painful and difficult to move. In some severe cases of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, the presence of swelling in one knee more than the other can cause the unaffected leg to grow slightly longer. However, in most cases of rheumatoid arthritis, joints are affected in pairs symmetrically on either side of the body.
  • Symptoms

    The early signs of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis may be subtle and include a swollen joint, a fever that spikes in the evening and disappears by the next morning, or a rash that shows up intermittently on different parts of the body. Because arthritis is generally seen as an adult disease, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis may be one of the last diseases for which a child with these symptoms is tested.

  • Causes

    Juvenile arthritis affects children between the ages of six months and 16 years. There is no known cause for the disease, but there is a tendency for it to run in families which suggests a genetic component while some cases have been known to develop after an injury. Other cases may be caused by a virus.
  • Identification

    A normal joint consists of two smooth bone surfaces that slide along one another when bent. In individuals with arthritis, these smooth surfaces can become inflamed (arthritis literally means 'joint swelling') and lead to pain. Over the course of an average lifetime, these smooth surfaces at the end of the bones simply wear out over time, which is why older people often experience arthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis is different than age-related arthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis is a degenerative autoimmune disorder in which the body's immune system mistakenly attacks its own tissues. As the disease progresses, individuals with rheumatoid arthritis become increasingly immobile, occasionally to the point of being entirely disabled.
  • Treatments

    JRA may go away on its own, or it may proceed throughout the life of the child. Physical therapy is an important part of treatment, and if caught early and done properly can sometimes eliminate the symptoms of the disease altogether. Medications that reduce the inflammation work to decrease the pain, while other medications work to fight the autoimmune properties of the disease.
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