Definition and causes
Children may suffer from the same type of arthritis as adults, but childrens arthritis (Stills disease / Juvenile arthritis) is an illness affecting only children. Approximately 200 children per million inhabitants are suffering from arthritis, and each year an additional 20 new cases per million inhabtitants of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis are diagnosed. Childrens arthritis occurs because of an abnormal response in the body's immune system, reflected by inflammation in one or more joints associated with pain and swelling.
The cause of childrens arthritis is unknown, but sometimes several members of a family are affected, suggesting a degree of inheritance. Possibly external factors such as a viral infection also play a role.
Childrens arthritis occurs in different degrees of severity, and if a child is only afflicted by a milder form, it will often be able to continue with its normal activities of daily living. In severe cases of childrens arthritis the child will both develop deformed joints and impaired movement.
Different types of Juvenile arthritis
Juvenile arthritis are labelled depending on how many joints are affected by the disease, and what specific symptoms are appearing.
Up to four affected joints
This is the most common form of childrens arthritis, and it affects mostly girls under school age. The symptoms are inflammation, stiffness and pain in up to four joints, and there is a risk that the child develops the eye disease Uveitis. Typically, the knees, ankles and wrists are affected. For the most part the course of this type of childrens arthritis is mild, and will cure itself after a few years. In other patients the disease unfortunately spreads to other joints, and here, a more intensive treatment is needed.
Several affected joints
Again, this type of childrens arthritis most often affects girls, and is even seen both in children below school age as well as in older children. The symptoms include inflammation, stiffness and pain in at least five joints. Here both small and large joints are affected, including fingers, wrists, knees and ankles.
There are several other types of juvenile arthritis, where both girls and boys are affected equally, and where in addition to inflammation, swelling and pain in joints swollen glands, fever and rash is seen. In the worst of these cases there will be lasting damage to the child's body.
What can be done?
If there is suspicion that your child has one of the above types of juvenile arthritis, your doctor will probably recommend that your childs affected joints are X-rayed, and to take blood samples to see if there is specific antibodies present, which also may also characterize the disease.
As there are several different types of Juvenile arthritis, it is important that the child is examined by doctors with the relevant expertise to make sure the child gets the optimal treatment for this particular case.
The goal of the treatment is to reduce inflammation, minimize damage to the joints and soothe the child's pain. If the child is affected by arthritis in a milder form, it may only require general pain and inflammation-inhibiting drugs. In more severe cases, it may be necessary to treat with stronger medicines such as cortisone preparations or the like.
Children with this ailment should also be treated with physiotherapy in order to preserve joint mobility and muscle strength as much as possible. Physical excercises conducted in warm water basins may be very useful.
Childrens arthritis may disappear after a period of years, but children with more severe degrees of the disease can get develop deformed joints, and in some the arthritis continues to be present even in adulthood.