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Arthritis is a chronic disease characterized by inflammation of the joints; joint pain, stiffness, and swelling are the most common symptoms. Though arthritis is most commonly seen in adults over the age of 65, it can also develop in children, teens, and younger adults.
When it occurs in children aged 16 or younger, it is called juvenile arthritis. Juvenile arthritis is an autoimmune disease. The normal function of the immune system is to protect the body from foreign substances. In juvenile arthritis, the immune system attacks the body instead. The exact cause remains unknown. In medical terminology, this is referred to as idiopathic, therefore the disease is also known as juvenile idiopathic arthritis or JIA. However, researchers believe juvenile arthritis may be related to genetics, certain infections and environmental triggers.
There is no cure for JIA but with prompt diagnosis and early treatment, remission is possible. The goal of treatment is to relieve inflammation, control pain and improve quality of life.
Dr. Humeira Badsha, Consultant Rheumatologist and Board Member at Middle East Arthritis Foundation shares some tips to help with the treatment of JIA:
While this may seem obvious, it is especially important in the case of JIA because children can suffer irreversible bone and joint damage and deformity. In the short run, medicines are to alleviate inflammation and relieve pain, but long-term objectives are to prevent disease progression and destruction of joints, bones, cartilage and soft tissues such as muscles, tendons and joint capsules. You must seek specialist advice as quickly as possible, so your child is able to fight the disease fast to prevent further damage.
Because of medications, weight changes are common in children battling JIA. Their appetites may increase or decrease, affecting their weight rapidly. It is vitally important that your child maintains a normal body weight. Carrying extra body weight puts additional stress through weight-bearing joints. It is therefore important to plan your child’s diet well, to ensure adequate nutrition. It is equally important to note that many foods heal inflammation. Some examples are oily fish, spinach and leafy greens, walnuts, berries and olive oil. Speak to a qualified nutritionist to plan a healthful diet which can fight JIA.
Exercise and juvenile arthritis
Exercising is an important part of the treatment regimen for JIA. Studies indicate that exercising at least three times per week can strengthen muscles and improve joint flexibility, making it easier to cope with JIA. However, for this particular demographic, getting them to exercise can be hard. Children, in general, are so occupied battling their pain that getting them to exercise can be a chore. Experiment with different forms of fitness along with your child till you find one that he or she enjoys. Of course, you must consult a doctor before your child embarks on a fitness routine.
Some simple lifestyle changes can go a long way in improving the quality of life of your child. For example, children with JIA can struggle with tiredness and fatigue. It is, therefore, important to plan your child’s routine in such a way that he or she gets sufficient rest. This includes a good night’s sleep and possibly a nap during the day if necessary. Playing and socializing is an important part of any child’s life. For a child with JIA, you could consider inviting a few children over for playdates rather than expect him or her to go outdoors.
And finally, school is a crucial part of your child’s life and plays an important part in their development. You should always partner with your child’s school and teachers and work together to find ways to keep the school experience as fun and beneficial as possible for your child, while coping with JIA.
Overall, your child should be encouraged to keep his or her life as normal as possible – to just do the things that kids do. This helps to increase their self-esteem and their feelings of control over their illness, and in the long-run, ensures more positive outcomes.
Written by Dr. Humeira Badsha, Consultant Rheumatologist and Board Member at Middle East Arthritis Foundation