Understanding Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis
What is Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis?
Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (JRA), also known as juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA), is a type of arthritis that affects children ages 16 or younger. In the United States, around 50,000 children live with JRA. It is an autoimmune disease, meaning that the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy cells and tissues within the body, thereby triggering inflammation. This, in turn, results in redness, swelling, and stiffness of the joints. JRA can affect any joint within the body and the inflammatory response may limit joint mobility.
What causes JRA?
Researchers are still unclear as to the exact cause of JRA, but they believe that it involves a two-step process. The first step is that a young child’s particular genes makes them susceptible to developing JRA, and the second step is that an environmental factor, for instance a virus, triggers the onset of JRA itself. In fact, 20,000-40,000 genes out of the entire human genome have been recognized to be strongly linked with JRA.
What are the symptoms of JRA?
Apart from redness, swelling, and stiffness of the joints, JRA can cause a wide range of symptoms, including chronic fever, anemia, muscle tightening, loss of bone mass, and delay in growth. It can also affect the eyes, lungs, heart, and nervous system. Not all symptoms are the same in all children with JRA. These symptoms can also change on a daily basis.
If flare-ups are persistent, they may cause a high fever, a pink rash, limping, eye inflammation, joint pain and swelling, as well as difficulty moving the hands or fingers. Although flare-ups may last for several weeks, symptoms tend to be less severe during these episodes.
How is JRA diagnosed?
JRA is rather difficult to diagnose, especially since a majority of children with this type of arthritis do not complain of joint pain. In fact, most parents may not even be aware that their children have signs and symptoms of JRA. If a doctor suspects that a child may have JRA, he or she will ask about the child’s symptoms, as well as the family’s medical history. The child will also need to undergo a physical examination to detect any joint swelling, signs of internal inflammation, skin rashes, and eye problems. The doctor may also recommend an x-ray examination, a blood test or a synovial fluid analysis for confirming results.
Diagnosis of JRA is mainly based on monitoring symptoms during the first six months from their onset. In turn, determining the number of joints that are affected during the first six months from the onset of symptoms determines the diagnosis.
Read on to learn more about the different types of Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis and how they affect the body.