Arthritis, Not Just a Disease for the Elderly Hundreds of Children a Year Affected by This Degenerative Disease

Posted: January 24, 2009

With arthritis affecting one in 1000 children a year, doctors are becoming increasingly aware that it is not just a disease of the elderly as once perceived.

Arthritis is an inflammation of the joint usually accompanied by swelling, pain and stiffness, which can result from infection, trauma, degenerative changes or metabolic disturbances. It occurs in various forms, such as bacterial arthritis, osteoarthritis, or rheumatoid arthritis.

Childhood arthritis is also referred to as juvenile arthritis with the most common form known as juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (JRA). JRA can occur anytime from birth until the age of 16 years and usually affects girls twice as often as boys. The disease can be short-term, lasting only a few weeks or months and fade with age. Or, it can be chronic lasting for months or years. And though rare, it may even continue to recur throughout the child's life.

JRA is an autoimmune disorder which causes the white blood cells to lose the ability to correctly differentiate between the body's healthy cells and harmful attackers, such as bacteria and viruses. The immune system, which normally protects the body, instead releases chemicals and attacks the healthy cells and tissues resulting in inflammation and pain.

There are three major types of JRA: Systemic JRA, Oligoarticular JRA and Polyarticular arthritis.

Systemic JRA affects the entire body. Symptoms include joint pain and swelling in addition to a fever and skin rash - and can also affect the internal organs such as the spleen and lymph nodes.

Oligoarticular JRA affects four or fewer joints, most commonly the knee and wrist joints. Often an inflammation of the iris occurs with or without joint symptoms and can be detected early by an ophthalmologist.

In cases of Polyarticular arthritis, five or more joints are affected. The small joints such as those in the hands and feet are most commonly affected as well as the weight-bearing joints such as the knees, hips and ankles. Low grade fever is common as well as bumps on the body on areas subjected to pressure from leaning or sitting.

A physical exam, blood tests, X-rays and a bone scan assist in diagnosing JRA. Depending on the severity of the joint deterioration and other patient factors, JRA may be treated with anti-inflammatory and/or antirheumatic drugs and physical therapy. In cases of severe joint deformity, surgery may be indicated.

Dr. David Hildreth is a leading orthopedic surgeon specializing in hand, wrist and elbow conditions at the Richmond Bone & Joint Clinic in Texas. He was named among the nationally renowned Super Doctors list for the past two years and offers patients the latest advances in orthopedic care. To learn more about Dr. Hildreth, arthritis and treatment for many common hand and upper extremity injuries and conditions log onto or call 281-344-1715.