Kids Get Arthritis Too! July is Juvenile Arthritis Awareness Month!

What do you think comes to mind when most people hear the word arthritis? Do you think the average person picture someone like me – a young mother who has to inject herself with biologic medications to keep up with her children? Or would they think of a college student - struggling through exams with swollen and painful hands? Or do they picture a teenager on her high school dance team – who also happens to have titanium hips? Or do you think they would ever consider a baby who is trying to learn how to walk – but finds her first steps to be excruciatingly painful?

Probably not. Most people who hear the word arthritis probably picture Grandpa walking with a cane or perhaps Grandma’s hands hurting too much to knit. But, in reality, arthritis is not just a geriatric disease. I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis at the age of 25, which seemed really young to me! But the sad truth is that even little kids can be diagnosed with arthritis. I once met a baby who was diagnosed with juvenile arthritis at the age of one, just as she was trying to learn how to walk. I know lots of children and teenagers who have dealt with the pain of arthritis almost their entire lives. These children, and the adults they eventually become, simply do not know what life without arthritis pain would even be like.

The word arthritis literally means joint inflammation. The meaning comes from Greek, where “arthro” means joint and “itis” means inflammation. The most common type of arthritis is osteoarthritis (OA), which does usually have an onset later in life and can often worsen with age. Unfortunately, many people assume that the word arthritis refers only to osteoarthritis. This assumption has created the stereotype that only old people get arthritis. But the truth is that the word arthritis actually refers to more than 100 different diseases and conditions that destroy joints, bones, muscles, cartilage, and other tissues. And, of the 50 million Americans with some form of arthritis, two-thirds are actually younger than age 65 – and 300,000 of them are little children. In fact, arthritis is a very common childhood disease and affects more children than juvenile diabetes and cystic fibrosiscombined.

Juvenile arthritis (JA) is the umbrella term that is used to describe the many different forms of arthritis that can develop in children younger than age 16. Like rheumatoid arthritis (RA), juvenile forms of arthritis are autoimmune diseases that occur when a child’s own immune system mistakenly attacks healthy cells and tissues. The most common symptoms are swelling, stiffness, and pain in the joints. Other symptoms can include muscle and soft tissue tightening, bone erosion, joint misalignment, and changes in growth patterns. JA can also involve the eyes, leading to iritis (inflammation of the iris) or uveitis (inflammation of the inner eye). In some cases, internal organs including the spleen, heart, or, very rarely, lungs may also be involved.

Although focuses primarily on supporting people living with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), I know from reading the comments in our forums and on our Facebook page that quite a few of our readers were originally diagnosed with arthritis as children. Some of our readers have been living with arthritis their entire lives – and some are currently struggling to raise children who have been diagnosed with arthritis. Juvenile arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis are also similar in that they are both autoimmune forms of arthritis, which means that many of the symptoms and treatments do overlap.

The month of July is Juvenile Arthritis Awareness Month! Those of us reading this website know the truth about arthritis. We know that the stereotypes are wrong. So let’s make it our goal this month to do what we can to help increase awareness that arthritis can affect anyone at any age! Because the truth of the matter is that we all benefit from increasing awareness that arthritis is not just a disease of old age. And let’s also remember to do what we can to send support and love and inspiration to the 300,000 kids growing up with arthritis, as well as providing hope and love and admiration for their amazing parents!

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