Most people think of arthritis as a disease for older adults to worry about, but children can get arthritis too. Children with arthritis face similar problems to their adult counterparts, but in addition, they may have to deal with growth issues, bone deterioration at an earlier age, and missing out on enjoying a typical active childhood.
What is juvenile arthritis?
There are more than a hundred different types of arthritis. About 10 million people in the UK have a type of arthritis, and as many as 50 million adults and 300,000 children suffer from it in the United States. This makes the disease a common cause of disability, pain, loss of independence, and loss of mobility.
Childhood arthritis has sub-types too, but they’re usually grouped together under the umbrella term “juvenile arthritis.” No one knows what causes juvenile arthritis (JA), though scientists do speculate that some people have a genetic predisposition towards it.
Child patients’ bones may weaken faster than their peers, giving them the bones of someone much older when they are only a young adult. Children may also suffer complications to the eyes, skin, muscles, and digestive system. An eye condition called uveitis can cause loss of vision if not treated right away. Lastly, children have to cope with the emotional effects of living with a painful disability. Understanding chronic medical conditions like this can be challenging and a lot for a young person to deal with, so it’s important to keep an eye on your child’s emotional wellbeing as much as their physical health.
How is juvenile arthritis treated?
While there is no cure, a combination of both medication and lifestyle changes can help treat juvenile arthritis. Juvenile idiopathic arthritis, one of the main sub-types, can even go into remission.
- While there is no magic food that fights arthritis, it’s recommended that young people with JA maintain a healthy diet with a focus on foods and oils with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. So, encourage your child to eat a diet rich in vegetables, fruit, fish, nuts, and healthy fats such as olive oil. Avoid foods that are fried, processed, or high in sugars as these tend to aggravate inflammation.
- Doctors often prescribe medications like NSAIDs to treat arthritis and many times there is no other way, unfortunately. Since arthritis is a long-term condition, some families (especially in the USA) may struggle to afford a regular supply of medicine. If this is relevant to you, try buying prescription drugs online from a place like Rx Connected, a Canadian pharmacy referral service. International and Canadian pharmacies often have much lower drug prices than in the USA, where drug prices are more loosely regulated.
- Uveitis needs to be treated as soon as possible, and it may sometimes have no symptoms, so parents should take their kids to the eye doctor regularly to have a professional check them out. Children with arthritis may also need to visit the dentist more often as jaw joint pain can make it especially difficult to brush teeth.
- Some children experience the most pain when they first wake up. To treat morning stiffness, try taking a hot bath or shower, doing range-of-motion exercises, and using a hot or cold pack to relieve pain. Heat tends to relieve pain better than cold.
- Children with arthritis are encouraged to exercise because this can help maintain bone and muscle strength. Low-impact exercise like swimming and biking may work well for those with serious joint pain.
Juvenile Arthritis in Daily Life
Kids with JA may need to develop a high sense of responsibility at a very young age to keep up with healthy exercises, taking medication on time, and eating right. Missing out on activities, getting bullied because of perceived weakness, and coping with physical pain means a child with juvenile arthritis also needs to look out for their mental health. If it looks like your child’s mental health may be suffering, there’s no shame in finding professional help in the form of a therapist or counselor. Seeking help is a proactive, strong thing to do.
Encourage kids to continue to be involved in the things they love. Teach them that their disability does not mean they are less capable than anyone else. They may just need more patience and time.
Encourage children to express themselves in art, music, and other creative activities that may not be as active if they’re experiencing a lot of pain. Social activities, like extracurricular classes, sports teams, clubs, and even part-time work for teens, can help kids foster strong relationships with their peers and feel a sense of belonging despite their “difference.” Anyone can get a strong sense of empowerment from achieving something, like learning a skill, scoring a goal, or creating artwork.
While children should be educated by their families and physicians about how best to take care of their bodies, being overprotective is not the answer. Kids will become adults one day and will need to know how to protect themselves. Moreover, coddled kids may get teased more, feel left out, and suffer from low self-esteem.
In the meantime, keep learning about arthritis. The more you know, the more empowered you’ll feel to make educated decisions on your healthcare. Research for this article was taken from the NHS, the Arthritis Foundation, and Kids Get Arthritis Too, all great resources to start with.
Danny Lopez is a freelance writer in Vancouver, British Columbia. He has contributed many articles to various blogs on fitness, medicine, and health. He loves to promote self-improvement and takes pride in his passion to motivate people to push the limits of their disabilities. You can reach Danny on Twitter www.twitter.com/lopezblogs