Myths and facts about this autoimmune disease

Q: My son has been diagnosed with juvenile arthritis. I thought arthritis occurred only in adults. What do I need to know in order to understand this puzzling, rare diagnosis?

A: Many people think arthritis affects only the older generations. However, arthritis can affect people at any age. In fact, thousands of children under the age of 16 are affected by arthritis.

The most common form of juvenile arthritis is juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA), an autoimmune disease causing chronicinflammation of the joints and eyes that can lead to joint pain, joint swelling, stiffness, vision loss and disability. JIA can be tricky to spot because the symptoms may begin very slowly. If your child is diagnosed with JIA,treatment is available to help reduce pain and improve joint function.

Myth: Arthritis is caused by cracking your knuckles.

Fact: There is no evidence of an association between knuckle cracking and arthritis. The exact cause of juvenile arthritis is unknown, but certain factors such as genetics and environmental influences may play a role in the disease's development.

Myth: My child's joint pain is just normal “growing pains.”

Fact: Complaints of mild joint pain are often considered benign. However, if pain significantly inhibits activity, such as running or playing sports, or causes a limp, parents should seek medical attention. Other signs of arthritis include joint swelling or stiffness that is worse in the mornings.

Always consult your child's pediatrician concerning your child's health.

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Laura Ballenger, M.D., is a fellow in rheumatology at Nationwide Children's Hospital.