Pediatric Rheumatic Diseases
Pediatric rheumatic diseases, also called juvenile arthritis, is an umbrella term used to describe the many autoimmune and inflammatory conditions that can develop in children ages 16 and younger. Pediatric rheumatic diseases affect nearly 300,000 children in the United States. That’s more than juvenile diabetes and cystic fibrosis combined.
Although they share many common telltale symptoms, like pain, joint swelling, redness and warmth, they are distinct and each have their own special concerns and symptoms. Some pediatric rheumatic diseases affect the musculoskeletal system, but joint symptoms may be a minor or nonexistent component. Pediatric rheumatic diseases can involve the eyes, skin, muscles and gastrointestinal tract as well.
The types of pediatric rheumatic diseases include:
- Juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA)- Considered the most common form of arthritis, JIA) includes six subtypes: oligoarthritis, polyarthrits, systemic, enthesitis-related, juvenile psoriatic arthritis or undifferentiated.
- Juvenile dermatomyositis- An inflammatory disease, juvenile dermatomyositis causes muscle weakness and a skin rash on the eyelids and knuckles.
- Juvenile lupus- Lupus is a disease of the immune system. The most common form is systemic lupus erythematosus, or SLE. Lupus can affect the joints, skin, kidneys, blood and other areas of the body.
- Juvenile scleroderma- Scleroderma, which literally means “hard skin,” describes a group of conditions that causes the skin to tighten and harden.
- Kawasaki disease- This disease causes blood-vessel inflammation that can lead to heart complications.
- Mixed connective tissue disease- This disease may include features of arthritis, lupus dermatomyositis and scleroderma, and is associated with very high levels of a particular antinuclear antibody (anti-RNP).
- Fibromyalgia- This chronic pain syndrome is an arthritis-related condition. It can cause stiffness and aching, along with fatigue, disrupted sleep and other symptoms. More common in girls, fibromyalgia is seldom diagnosed before puberty.
No known cause has been pinpointed for most forms of pediatric rheumatic diseases, nor is there evidence to suggest that toxins, foods or allergies cause children to develop any of the diseases. Some research points toward a genetic predisposition, which means the combination of genes a child receives from his or her parents may cause the onset of a pediatric rheumatic disease when triggered by other factors.
Each of the different pediatric rheumatic disease have their own set of signs and symptoms. You can read more specifics of the diseases by following the links above, and by visiting the Arthritis Foundation’s website dedicated to pediatric rheumatic diseases, KidsGetArthritisToo.
The most important step in properly treating any of the pediatric rheumatic diseases is getting an accurate diagnosis. The diagnostic process can be long and detailed. There is no single blood test that confirms any of the diseases. In children, the key to diagnosis is a careful physical examination, along with a thorough medical history. Any specific tests a doctor may order will depend upon the type of rheumatic disease suspected.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for the pediatric rheumatic diseases, although with early diagnosis and aggressive treatment, remission is possible. The goal of treatment is to relieve inflammation, control pain and improve the child’s quality of life, and possibly achieve remission. Most treatment plans involve a combination of medication, physical activity, eye care and healthy eating.
Self management for a child with a rheumatic disease involves teaching the child the importance of how to follow the treatment prescribed by doctors and other healthcare providers. Self care also involves helping the child address the emotional and social effects of the disease. Self management encompasses the choices made each day to live well and stay healthy and happy.