Rheumatoid arthritis is mostly found in adults but today the rate of occurrence has increased even in children. According to a statistical study conducted in the US, approximately 30,000 children are suffering from rheumatoid arthritis. Rheumatism in children is an autoimmune disorder marked by inflammation of the joints. It mostly affects children below the age of 16 making them suffer from severe joint pain. There is no particular reason behind the development of this disease. In most of the cases, rheumatism is attributed to genetic factors. Children having a family history of rheumatoid arthritis are most likely to develop this disease.
Rheumatism in children is also known as juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (JRA) and is broadly classified into three major types:
- Pauciarticular JRA: In this case inflammation of maximum four joints is observed with chances more with knee and wrist. The iris might also be inflamed along with joint symptoms.
- Polyarticular Arthritis JRA: This is more observed in girls than boys. Minimum 5 joints are affected with intense swelling and pain. Inflammation of weight bearing joints or hands are mostly detected.
- Systemic JRA: The first symptom is an intermittent fever that rises in the evening and falls abruptly. It's accompanied by rashes all over the skin and then the eventual enlargement of lymph nodes and inflammation of joints.
The exact rheumatism causes in children are still not known. The probable reasons put forth by doctors show that the body develops autoimmunity when the defense cells are not able to differentiate between the healthy cells and other foreign invaders. The white blood cells of the immune system instead of destroying the viruses and bacteria, damage the healthy tissues of the body by their immune mechanism. This causes pain and inflammation of muscles and joints.
The childhood rheumatism symptoms are quite evident and they are mentioned below.
- Pain in wrist, fingers or knee. Soreness and warmness around the knee leading to limping.
- Swelling and enlargement of the joints accompanied by redness and inflammation.
- Stiffness and tightening of the hips, neck and portions of the joints.
- Appearance and sudden disappearance of rashes.
- Rise in fever during the evening and declination during the day.
- Intermittent fever causing gradual loss of weight.
- Inflammation of the eye accompanied with (or without) soreness in joints.
Diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis in children is based on a complete blood assay to detect the count of WBCs, RBCs and platelets. Tests are conducted to determine the presence of bacterial infection in blood. The sedimentation rate of erythrocytes is also taken into account as inflammation increases it. Children suffering from rheumatism have the antibody, rheumatoid factor present in their blood and presence of antinuclear antibody is a confirmatory test for autoimmunity and presence of eye disease along with rheumatism. Other diagnostic tests include examination of bone marrow to detect the presence of leukemia and a full bone scan to find out alternations in bone structure due to inflammation and soreness.
Remission of symptoms start with early diagnosis and treatment. Rheumatism treatment in children is basically done with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). The common drugs are naproxen, ibuprofen, aspirin, etc. These drugs limit the secretion of harmful chemicals that show autoimmune function. Under severe conditions, doctors often perform treatment with disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) or corticosteroids. The drugs of these categories are methotrexate and prednisone respectively. This is the case when children suffer from heart diseases along with rheumatism. Apart from medications, a good amount of physiotherapy and exercises help to regain flexibility of muscles and joints. A range of motion exercises help to rebuild endurance and strength of the body. This way children can get out of rheumatism.
Rheumatism in children is a painful condition, that can affect children with the feeling of confinement. Therefore, it's strongly advised to take your child to a reputed orthopedic in order to get the correct treatment at an early stage. Rheumatism can be completely cured with regular exercise and medication.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this article is solely for educating the reader. It is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a medical expert.