Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (JRA) is a common form of chronic arthritis in children. It is a long-term autoimmune condition characterized by stiffness and swelling in the joints.
Most cases of JRA are mild, but severe cases may result in joint damage. JRA is different from adult rheumatoid arthritis, and the exact causes of this condition are unknown.
Knowing the signs and symptoms of JRA is important for getting medical treatment before the condition progresses.
The bones meet at joints, which help make movement easy. If you have JRA, movements are often painful because your joints don’t move as they should. According to KidsHealth, JRA affects children under 16 years old. (Kids Health).
Although you may have occasional joint pain, you probably do not have JRA unless you experience joint pain and swelling for a minimum of six weeks at a time.
The most common symptoms of this condition include:
- joint pain
- reduced range of motion
- warm and swollen joints
- redness in the affected area
- swollen lymph nodes
- recurrent fevers
Untreated JRA can lead to further complications. In some cases, the disorder can cause eye problems, such as pain and changes in vision. Other complications may arise, including:
- long-term, recurring pain
- joint destruction
- stunted growth
- uneven limbs
- heart swelling
A physical exam can help your doctor properly diagnose JRA in its early stages. Common signs of the condition may include inflammation, eye problems, and rashes.
In addition, your doctor will order blood tests, such as C-reactive protein tests, to measure inflammation in the body and to look for rheumatoid factor, which is an antibody found in the blood of adults who have arthritis. X-rays and bone scans are also used to help your doctor get a better look at the affected areas.
There are three types of JRA:
- pauciarticular JRA (four or fewer joints are affected)
- polyarticular JRA (five or more are affected)
- systemic onset JRA (affects both the joints and internal organs)
The type of arthritis you’re diagnosed with depends on the progression of your condition, with systemic onset JRA being the most severe. According to the Arthritis Foundation, over 50 percent of JRA patients are diagnosed with pauciarticular JRA. (Arthritis Foundation).
Doctors utilize a variety of treatment measures to control JRA. First, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are used to reduce inflammation and swelling. Over-the-counter ibuprofen is commonly used, although prescription strengths are also available for severe pain. Aspirin may be recommended, but this is rare because of the medication’s possible adverse side effects in children. Never use aspirin without your doctor’s consent.
Other prescription medications are used to help decrease the body’s rheumatic responses. Such immune system suppressants generally take several months to work. Your doctor may also only prescribe these for a short period of time to reduce potential side effects, such as osteoporosis (bone weakening).
In severe cases, surgery may be used to replace the joints altogether. Fluids may also be extracted from your tissues to reduce inflammation.
Diet and exercise are important for everyone, but making healthy changes is especially helpful in dealing with JRA. Weight changes are common in patients with JRA for a few reasons. First, medications may decrease your appetite, causing rapid weight loss. In such cases, you may need to healthfully increase your daily calorie intake to get your weight back up.
On the flip side, lack of mobility can cause weight gain. It is important to lose the weight not only to stay healthy, but also to ease the extra pressure on your joints.
Regular exercise can also strengthen your muscles and make dealing with JRA easier in the long run. Discuss any new workout regimens with your doctor before beginning. Low-impact exercises, such as swimming, walking, and biking, are usually best. A physical therapist may also help you learn how to use your muscles and joints after treatment.
JRA is a long-term condition that tends to produce occasional flare-ups. The fewer joints that are affected, the easier it is to recover. A child may expect to have stiffness and a loss of appetite.
It is possible for a child to go into remission with JRA, but it depends on how seriously the child is affected. This is why early treatment is so crucial to prevent more joints from succumbing to this condition.