Arthritis Isn’t Just for the Elderly

From my Healthy Living column in Moncton’s Times & Transcript.

 

I remember learning about juvenile arthritis for the first time in elementary school, in a chapter book from the school library written by an author whose name I have forgotten. The book’s main character was diagnosed with juvenile arthritis in the first few chapters and the book chronicled her new life with juvenile arthritis, highlighting a fundraising walk she participated in with a new wheelchair.

Lately, I have been thinking about juvenile arthritis again.  This summer, I met a girl my age who had juvenile arthritis and a couple my family met while on vacation told us about their young adult daughter who had been diagnosed with juvenile arthritis at age eight.

Arthritis is defined as inflammation of the joints. Typically, older adults get arthritis because they’ve worn down their joints overtime. Why do children and teens have arthritis then? It’s not known, but a genetic predisposition is speculated. There are several different forms of juvenile arthritis and girls and boys are most likely to be affected by different forms. Youth receive a diagnosis of juvenile arthritis based on their symptoms.  They can be administered imaging tests to rule out other causes for symptoms and a blood test to assure symptoms aren’t caused by an infection. A blood test can also narrow down the diagnosis to a specific type of juvenile arthritis, although a blood test can’t confirm a diagnosis.

Pediatric rhumatologists are the health professionals who are typically charged with developing a treatment plan for children with juvenile arthritis. Juvenile arthritis has no cure, therefore all that can be done is reduce inflammation and pain. Interestingly, children with juvenile arthritis are likely to develop complications in the eye, more specifically inflammation of the inner eye (uveitis) and of the iris (iritis). Thus, treatment may include medication, orthotics and splints, physical therapy, eye care, physical activity, health eating, surgery (although rarely), and dental care (due to the jaw problems juvenile arthritis implies).

I was shocked when my friend with juvenile arthritis told me that she had endured quite a bit of teasing about her arthritis during elementary school because she used crutches to help her get around. I can’t believe kids would be so cruel to someone afflicted with a painful and limiting disease so young. Fortunately for my friend, her arthritis has been well managed and she can now walk and move without difficulty, to the point that it would be impossible to know she had arthritis unless she told you. Nevertheless, she says that the disease has its ups and downs, some days being very painful and others being symptom-free.

To learn more about juvenile arthritis, visit http://www.arthritis.org, the source for this article.

 

 

Originally published in the Times & Transcript on December 17th, 2011.

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