Juvenile chronic arthritis—also known as juvenile rheumatoid arthritis—is a disorder that affects children under 16 years of age. Most children contract the disease between the ages of 2 and 6, although that can vary in some cases. Much like adult rheumatoid arthritis, the body’s immune system begins attacking its own cells, which can cause pain and other symptoms. The largest difference between the adult and juvenile versions of the disease is that many of the children tend to recover as they get older, while adults are generally stuck with arthritis for the remainder of their lives. There are also some differences in the way the disease progresses and variations in the approach taken during treatment.
The most common form of juvenile chronic arthritis is pauci-articular arthritis, affecting between 50 and 60 percent of patients. This version of the disease generally causes pain and stiffness in four joints or less, and mostly it affects larger joints like the knees or hips. Pauci-articular arthritis is more common in females, and the first symptom most people notice is a limp. Children usually contract the disease around the age of 3 years, and as they get older, they can be vulnerable to certain eye diseases, which can result in long-term vision loss. Most doctors recommend regular visits to an ophthalmologist as a preventative safety measure.
Polyarticular arthritis is the second most common form of juvenile chronic arthritis, affecting between 20 and 30 percent of patients. It generally causes pain and stiffness in five or more joints, including both large and small joints. Most patients don’t show symptoms until they reach their teen years, and this version of the disease can very often follow a person into adult life, when it develops into regular rheumatoid arthritis.
The rarest form of juvenile chronic arthritis is systemic arthritis, and it generally affects about 10 percent of the children diagnosed. A recurring pink rash around the thighs, a fever and joint swelling are the main symptoms. Over time, it can also cause swelling and damage to organs like the heart, liver and spleen. In most cases, children will recover from this disease on their own within five years, but there are rare situations where it may continue into adulthood.
Treatment for juvenile chronic arthritis often involves a mix of physical therapy and pharmaceuticals. The physical therapy will have a general goal of keeping the body limber and maintaining joint functionality. Doctors often prescribe various pain relievers, especially non-steroidal-anti-inflammatory medications like ibuprofen. Sometimes steroids are also used, but most doctors avoid overusing them because of concerns that they may disrupt a child's natural growth patterns.