July is Juvenile Arthritis Month

by Sue Taggart

July is Juvenile Arthritis Month and a good time to shed light on an insidious disease that affects over 300,000 children. Many people are not aware that children can develop the many autoimmune and inflammatory conditions grouped under the juvenile arthritis (JA) umbrella. To receive a diagnosis, a child should be younger than 16 and have initial swelling in one or more joints for at least six weeks.

While arthritis typically affects joints — the word “arthritis” literally means joint inflammation: arth (joint) and itis (inflammation) – JA can involve the eyes, skin and gastrointestinal tract as well.

There are several different types of juvenile arthritis. As JA’s prevalence rises, researchers and doctors are working to develop a more sophisticated understanding of the differences between the different forms.

To date, there are no known causes for most forms of juvenile arthritis, nor is there evidence to suggest that toxins, foods or allergies cause children to develop the disease. A number of different explanations have been offered to explain the onset of JA. There does seem to be a genetic link, based on the fact that the tendency to develop JA sometimes runs in particular families, and based on the fact that certain genetic markers are more frequently found in patients with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (JRA) and other related diseases. In other words, patients with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis might share common genes with family members who have other autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus, multiple sclerosis and others.

Whatever the causes, it is a chronic and painful disease. Having developed rheumatoid arthritis, I cannot imagine any child having to experience the pain associated with this disease or suffer the side effects of the current treatment options available.

That is why parents need to be proactive in exploring different options. When a child is in pain the natural reaction is that you want to stop their pain immediately. The challenge is that most doctors use “adult” medications to treat the symptoms of JA and are not very open to exploring alternative options. Current medications used to treat JA and JRA can be divided into two groups: those that help relieve pain and inflammation (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, or NSAIDs, corticosteroids and analgesics) and those that can alter the course of the disease, put it into remission and prevent joint damage, a category known as disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) and a newer subset known as biologic response modifiers (biologics).

However, complementary and alternative medicine can be very effective ways of treating JA. While there is no conclusive research, special diets—including low fat and vegetarian—acupuncture and dietary and herbal supplements have been shown to help. They are not harmful and should be considered as viable treatment options. You can visit www.arthritis-relief-naturally.com for details on dietary supplement such as GLA (borage seed oil), Fish Oils, Valerian root, Boswellia, Glucosamine and natural vitamins including antioxidants (Vitamins C, A, E, zinc, selenium and flavonoids) as well as B-vitamins and a full complement of minerals (including boron, copper, manganese).

Every treatment plan is unique and requires a health care team, which might include a pediatric rheumatologist, dentist, ophthalmologist, naturopath, nurse practitioner and physical therapist, among others. Treatment plans should involve a combination of medication, complementary and alternative therapies, physical activity, eye care, dietary supplements and a diet plan.

The one positive thing to keep in mind is the main difference between juvenile and adult rheumatoid arthritis is that more than half of all JRA children outgrow the illness, while adults usually have lifelong symptoms.

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