When a parent is told that their child has arthritis, they are usually astounded and shocked by the diagnosis.  Juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA) is not an uncommon disease. Approximately 300.000 children in the United States are affected, usually between the ages of three and thirteen.  The treatment of JIA relies on an early and correct diagnosis to minimize symptoms and to control the disease process.  A treatment course should be formatted around your child’s specific symptoms and type of arthritis.  Usually, medication, exercise, eye and dental care, and healthy eating habits are the treatment options.

NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) are the first line of medication for pain and inflammation.  Because corticosteroids can slow the rate of bone growth, it should be administered in the smallest dose possible for the shortest time.  Additional treatment called DMARDs (disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs) such as Plaquenil, Sulfasalazine, and Methotrexate are able modify the progress of joint erosion and cartilage and bone destruction.  During the past ten years, due to breakthroughs in genetic engineering and a better understanding of chemical mediators in arthritic inflammation, biologic were developed to block key cells and chemical mediators.  These drugs, which include etanercept (Enbrel), adalimumab (Humira), infliximab (Remicade), abatacept (Orencia) and tocilizumab (Actemra) have proven effective in JIA.

Parents should take a pro-active role in the fight against their child’s JIA.  Even though certain activities may be difficult for a child with JIA, parents should encourage participation in non-contact sports such as swimming, cycling, tennis, or in whatever their child feels they can physically handle.  Because exercising is a key element in keeping stiff joints limber and flexible, it is important that the child receive full support from their parents to regain their self-esteem and improve their general fitness and endurance.  Types of therapeutic exercise such as range of motion exercises along with hot baths, the use of a heating pad or ice pack prior to and after exercise may help your child be able to better cope with physical strain.

Because JIA can produce inflammation of eyes, it is important that parents keep on top of eye check-ups to reduce the potential for serious eye conditions.  Furthermore, because children with arthritis may experience limited jaw movement making dental hygiene a difficult and sometimes a painful task, dental appointments must be kept to ensure proper development of healthy teeth.  However, of greatest concern is the child’s emotional health.  Having such a serious disease at such a young age is difficult to cope with and understand.  As with any disease, not only is receiving a correct diagnosis and having an individualized plan of treatment crucial in ensuring that your child lead a happy and normal life, but of most importance is your support, encouragement and love.