CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Juvenile arthritis is an inflammatory condition that can develop in children under the age of 16 and affects nearly 300,000 children in the U.S.
When most people think of arthritis, they think of older people with the condition, but kids can get it, too.
Juvenile arthritis is a chronic condition, meaning it can last for months, or in some children, for years, and if not treated, even a lifetime.
“Common signs would be joint swelling, joint pain, stiffness in the joint. Sometimes for little kids, it will just be a change in how they walk or just a limp. Sometimes it could be fever that occurs daily. It could be rashes, and sometimes, it is just painless redness of the eye,” said Amistad Community Health Center Pediatrician Dr. Sharon Antwi-Boasiako.
Eleven-year-old Santiago Gomez started showing signs of juvenile arthritis when he was 10 years old, and within a year, he has been in and out of the hospital.
“First we went to the doctor, and they told me it is just growing pains, then they did another test and said it is probably your vitamin D because I had it low. Then we went to another doctor, and they said you have juvenile arthritis,” said Santiago.
“Just to see him in pain every day, swollen, not being able to walk or be a normal kid, and you can’t do anything about it. You just have to sit and watch your child suffer,” said Linda Gomez.
That’s why catching it early is key.
“It is really hard to think that it is so rare, but yet your child has it. I just want to tell everybody out there that these kids go through so much every day,” said Gomez.
Treatment plans may include medication and proper nutrition and exercise.
“Most commonly, it could be a medication that will be taken as an injection like every week, and sometimes they do steroid injections into the joint,” said Antwi-Boasiako.
Santiago chooses not to let his condition get the best of him.
“I am stronger than juvenile arthritis. I could not have been this strong without the help of my mom. She is kind of like a superhero, she is strong, and when I get down, she doesn’t get down, she helps me fight it,” said Santiago.
Juvenile arthritis is usually temporary, and only in rare cases does it last a lifetime. Most commonly, it disappears as the child matures. This is due to the strengthening of the child’s immune system and energy over time.
Symptoms:The most common signs and symptoms of juvenile idiopathic arthritis are:
Pain. While your child might not complain of joint pain, you may notice that he or she limps — especially first thing in the morning or after a nap.
Swelling. Joint swelling is common but is often first noticed in larger joints such as the knee.
Stiffness. You might notice that your child appears clumsier than usual, particularly in the morning or after naps.
Fever, swollen lymph nodes and rash. In some cases, high fever, swollen lymph nodes or a rash on the trunk may occur — which is usually worse in the evenings.
When to see a doctor:
Take your child to the doctor if he or she has joint pain, swelling or stiffness for more than a week — especially if he or she also has a fever.
Juvenile idiopathic arthritis occurs when the body's immune system attacks its own cells and tissues. It's not known why this happens, but both heredity and environment seem to play a role. Certain gene mutations may make a person more susceptible to environmental factors — such as viruses — that may trigger the disease.
Some forms of juvenile idiopathic arthritis are more common in girls.
Several serious complications can result from juvenile idiopathic arthritis. But keeping a careful watch on your child's condition and seeking appropriate medical attention can greatly reduce the risk of these complications:
Eye problems. Some forms can cause eye inflammation (uveitis). If this condition is left untreated, it may result in cataracts, glaucoma and even blindness.
Eye inflammation frequently occurs without symptoms, so it's important for children with this condition to be examined regularly by an ophthalmologist.
Growth problems. Juvenile idiopathic arthritis can interfere with your child's growth and bone development. Some medications used for treatment, mainly corticosteroids, also can inhibit growth.