Arthritis affects more than 4.6 million Canadian adults. But, did you know that more than 26,000 Canadian children and teens live with arthritis, too?
Juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA), formerly known as juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, is one of the most common chronic illnesses in children, and is often difficult to diagnose. Arthritic pain in children can often be dismissed as growing pains when in fact it may be early signals of a serious, inflammatory rheumatic disease that requires immediate medical treatment.
When diagnosed early, nearly 80 per cent of JIA cases become inactive, meaning the inflammation is gone AND no other signs of the disease are present. But if inflammation is not treated, it may permanently affect the joint, which can cause severe damage and may limit activities in childhood through to adulthood.
Common signs of juvenile arthritis
There are seven types of JIA that affect children and teenagers. JIA symptoms are similar to adults with rheumatoid arthritis, which include joint pain, swelling, tenderness and stiffness. Some JIA signs and symptoms are:
Joint and muscle pain: A child with juvenile arthritis may complain of joint pain right after a night’s sleep or waking from a nap, but the pain may lessen as the day progresses. JIA-related pain may develop slowly, and in joints on both sides of the body. For example, pain is in both knees or both feet, rather than one single joint.
Stiff joints: Particularly in the morning, pain may be worse right after waking but improves throughout the day. A toddler with JIA may struggle with recently learned everyday movements or activities, like holding or using a spoon.
Joint swelling or redness on the skin: A sign of inflammation. A child may complain that a joint feels hot, or it may even feel warm to the touch. A child’s swelling may persist for several days, or come and go, and may affect knees, hands and feet.
Non illness related fevers: A child with JIA may have frequent fevers accompanied by an illness or fatigue. Fevers may come on suddenly, even at the same time of day, and then disappear after a short time.
Weight loss: If a child lacks an appetite and is losing rather than gaining weight, it’s a sign that the problem could be juvenile arthritis.
Eye problems: Persistent eye redness, pain or blurred vision may be a sign of something more serious. Some forms of juvenile arthritis cause serious eye-related complications.
Treating juvenile arthritis
Early drug treatment can prevent serious or permanent damage to your child’s joints and enable them to live an active, full childhood despite having juvenile arthritis. Your family’s health team (family doctor, pediatrician and pharmacist) can help with diagnosing, treating and management of juvenile arthritis. Some management options and tips are:
Medication (e.g., non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are often used to treat JIA to help reduce pain and swelling and decrease stiffness)
Light to moderate exercise every day
Physiotherapy/Occupational therapy: to minimize long-term damage to joints and muscles and to preserve function
Maintain a healthy weight
Working together with your doctor, Express Scripts Canada pharmacists are able to optimize the dosage of medication—since JIA medication dosage is in part based on weight—and can organize your family’s medication(s) to automatically send the entire family’s medication in one shipment every 90 days, eliminating the need to visit different pharmacies and the stress of counting pills, which will help ensure your family stays on track with their treatment plans.
Our pharmacists are available to members 24/7 by phone to answer any questions you may have about your treatment plan. When discussing new medications, remember to mention any over-the-counter medications or natural products you may be taking. This will eliminate any potential drug interactions.