Most people associate arthritis with aging. Few are aware that this disease and its characteristic stiff, swollen joints, also occurs in children—sometimes as young as 6 months of age. UR Medicine pediatric rheumatologist Dr. Homaira Rahimi shares facts and warning signs of the disease.
Nearly 300,000 children in the U.S. are afflicted by some form of joint disease, and 50,000 of those have juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA)—the most common form of pediatric arthritis. The Arthritis National Research Foundation aims to spread the word about this constellation of diseases affecting children.
JIA can be broken into seven subsets that vary in their symptoms and age of onset. Generally, most forms of JIA start in toddlerhood when symptoms like joint swelling and stiffness, fever, and rash can go unnoticed or be dismissed as a flu or other viral bug.
Toddlers toddle, so joint swelling or stiffness can be easy to miss. Parents usually discover the disease after their child has some sort of incident, like bumping their knee on the slide, and they notice one joint looks different from the other.
This poses an extra risk to these children. Delaying diagnosis and treatment can cause lasting damage to joints leading to loss of mobility and, in some forms of JIA that cause eye inflammation, children may go blind.
While pediatric rheumatologists can provide quick, accurate JIA diagnoses through ultrasounds of a child’s joints, the first step to a timely diagnosis starts with you.
Signs of JIA to watch for in your child include:
- Stiffness upon awakening
- Reluctance to use an arm or leg
- Reduced activity level
- Persistent fever
- Joint swelling
- Difficulty with fine motor activities
The good news? JIA is highly treatable. Children usually receive local injections of medication into their affected joints followed by oral medications to suppress their immune system and reduce arthritic inflammation.
At Golisano Children’s Hospital, children may be treated in the Division of Pediatric Rheumatology’s, new anesthesia facility, where doctors can provide general anesthesia to very small children and infants to reduce the stress of joint injections.
For more information, please call (585) 275-4733.
Homaira Rahimi, M.D., is a pediatric rheumatologist at UR Medicine’s Golisano Children’s Hospital Division of Pediatric Rheumatology, the largest program of its kind in Upstate New York.