Childhood arthritis is the name given to an arthritis diagnosis before a person turns sixteen.
Just like all forms of arthritis, childhood arthritis is an autoimmune disease.
This happens when a person’s immune system
attacks something in their own body rather than a foreign substance.
Like many autoimmune diseases, there is no known cause.
There are several different types of childhood arthritis that can occur:
1. Systematic arthritis can affect several parts of the body. It can come with a rash and a high fever. In some cases, it can also affect the body’s organs.
2. Oligo-arthritis most commonly affects joints like the knee, ankle and wrist. Unlike systematic arthritis, it can also affect a person’s eyes. It affects girls more than boys and it is very common to outgrow this disease before adulthood.
3. Poly-arthritis can affect several joints in the body and extends to the jaw, neck, hands and feet. Psoriatic arthritis is a form of arthritis that affects children who have both arthritis and the skin condition psoriasis.
4. Enthesitis-related arthritis is a type of childhood arthritis that affects the spine and hips. It is most common in boys over the age of eight and is often related to a history of arthritis among other males in the child’s family.
Symptoms of childhood arthritis can often be quite subtle or non-existent in some cases. Many children experience joint stiffness in the morning as well as tender and sore joints throughout the day.
This can often go unnoticed and is considered to be growing pains. In some cases, the child may have a persistent fever as well as a rash on their body. Fatigue, irritability and eye redness can be common symptoms for some forms of this childhood illness.
Diagnosing childhood arthritis may involve a couple of different medical exams. Blood tests, urine samples and x rays may be initially ordered and eventually, an MRI scan may be suggested.
Antibody tests can show the presence of an autoimmune disease and samples of joint-fluid may be required via a surgical procedure.
The treatment plan for childhood arthritis will depend on the exact kind of arthritis that is present. Certain forms will require a more aggressive treatment plan.
- Anti-inflammatory drugs may be used to reduce swelling and relieve pain which should help with mobility. Many of these are available over the counter such as ibuprofen.
- Anti-rheumatic drugs may be prescribed and used to treat swelling and pain.
- Steroids may be prescribed in oral form or given via an injection into the affected joints. This is often the first treatment that is tried.
- Antimetabolites is a more aggressive form of therapy that aims to reduce further damage to the joints.
As well as medication the child’s care team will suggest a number of exercises that will help to ease symptoms and improve mobility.
Tracey is a happy mammy to four-year-old Billy. She is a breastfeeder, gentle parent and has recently lost five stone so healthy family eating is her passion! You can find her at www.loveofliving.ie.