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Today's Family Magazine

Juvenile arthritis can strike at any age

Aug 01, 2016 12:23PM ● By Today's Family
People often believe that arthritis is a condition that only affects seniors. However, the truth is that like diabetes it can be diagnosed in people under 50, even children. Particularly troublesome is rheumatoid arthritis which can strike at any age. “Rheumatoid arthritis is an aggressive, destructive disease that attacks your joints and tissues like they are foreign bodies and it comes with pain, stiffness and other symptoms that bring down your quality of life,” said Dr. Scott Burg, department of rheumatologic and immunologic disease at the Cleveland Clinic.

The bright side of the story is that rheumatoid arthritis is highly treatable.

The most prevalent form of arthritis, osteoarthritis, often comes along with aging but that is not the case with rheumatoid arthritis. “Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder and you do not get it from regular wear and tear on your body; your body’s attack on itself results in inflammation which causes pain, stiffness, swelling and other symptoms that may affect other organs,” said Burg.

There is reason to be hopeful. Since the signs are easy to identify, you can see a doctor early and have an examination and x-rays to confirm the diagnosis. “Telltale signs are if your pain is symmetrical meaning in both shoulders, both elbows or both wrists; and if your stiffness lasts longer than 30 minutes and the morning,” said Dr. Burg.

Juvenile arthritis is the umbrella term that refers to the numerous autoimmune and inflammatory conditions that can occur in kids under age 16. While it usually affects joints, the eyes, skin and gastrointestinal tract can be affected as well. To be diagnosed, a child simply needs to have swelling in one or more joints for at least six weeks. The cause remains unidentified and the Arthritis Foundation said that there is no evidence to suggest that toxins, foods or allergies cause children to develop the disease. Some research hints at a genetic predisposition.

The key is to stick to your child’s regular routine as much as possible. You will find that arthritis affects the entire family and you should empathize with your child’s emotions as he navigates the diagnosis with you.

The pediatrician will likely refer you to a pediatric rheumatologist who will ask questions about your child’s health history to find out how long the symptoms have been present. There is no blood test for arthritis, only a physical exam and medical history to provide insight. Imaging tests may be done to rule out other possible causes for symptoms and blood work may help rule out underlying infection.

Though there is no cure, there is a lot that can be offered. The Arthritis Foundation said that most treatment plans involve a combination of medication, physical activity, eye care and healthy eating. If you reach out, you will find that there are a lot of resources in the community to guide you as well.

Research has led to a lot of remedies. “We probably can do more for our patients with rheumatoid than we can for every other type of arthritis,” said Dr. Burg. Many medications are available. “Methotrexate works by counteracting the immune system’s attack on your joints; TNF inhibitors block the compound that does damage; and corticosteroid injections ease symptoms in a lot of patients,” said Burg. You can expect the doctor to monitor you closely. “The advances of recent years amaze me and we can put the disease into remission in most patients and sometimes even reverse the damage that has already been done,” said Dr. Burg.

Tiny modifications can make daily living with arthritis easier for all ages. Start with your kitchen. “Pots and pans with soft grips and longer handles may ease the process and if you have trouble handling silverware, adaptive utensils with thicker handles make it easier to enjoy your home-cooked meals,” said Dr. Burg. Elevating your seat to add height can be helpful. Then look at your bathroom. “Electric toothbrushes have fatter, easier-to-grip handles than traditional ones and also do much of the brushing work for you,” said Dr. Burg. For the shower, liquid soap is easier to use than bars and you can even add an automatic dispenser to the shower.

There is a Walk to Cure Arthritis at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo on May 9, 2015 at 9 a.m. This signature event entails a 3-mile and 1-mile course with arthritis information and activities for the family. Money raised will go toward helping people gain access to the critical medications necessary to live full, healthy lives and to fund research that provides better treatments and promises a cure down the road. This is a great time to get involved and learn more about this major health issue.

For more information about the Walk to Cure Arthritis, call 216.285.2829 or email Courtney Durbin at [email protected].