What are the Symptoms?
Juvenile arthritis mainly affects joints, so that’s where symptoms tend to show up. Most people experience swelling, pain, warmth and stiffness in their joints. But you might also have seemingly mysterious symptoms like a loss of appetite, a new rash, a fever or trouble sleeping.
While the symptoms of juvenile arthritis are signals that something is wrong, they don’t always send a perfectly clear message. After all, maybe a tough soccer game is responsible for your sore, stiff joints. An upcoming exam could be the reason you can’t sleep. A fever might be explained away if the flu happens to be going around.
It takes a diagnosis by a doctor to know for sure if you have juvenile arthritis, and which of the many types you have. But there are symptoms to take note of – and different symptoms for different types of the disease.
- Oligoarthritis (AH-lih-go-arth-RIGH-tus) is the most common type of juvenile arthritis. It affects one to four joints during the first six months of the disease. In extended cases, it affects more joints later on. It often starts on just one side of the body, usually in a large joint, like the knee or ankle. In addition to joint inflammation, it sometimes causes eye inflammation, called uveitis (you-vee-EYE-tus). It is more common among girls than boys.
- Polyarthritis (PAH-lee-arth-RIGH-tus) affects five or more joints during the first six months of the disease, often in the same joints on both sides of the body, such as both wrists or both knees. It can cause problems in large joints that bear body weight, like hips and knees, as well as small joints, like those in the hands and feet. It tends to affect the neck and jaw, too. People who have polyarthritis may have other symptoms including a low fever, bumps under the skin – called rheumatoid (ROOM-a-toyd) nodules – and anemia, a low red blood cell count. Anemia can cause its own symptoms, like fatigue. Polyarthritis is also more common among girls than boys.
- Systemic (sis-TEM-ik) arthritis affects not only joints, but the whole body. It can cause inflammation of internal organs, such as the heart and lungs. Joint inflammation may be accompanied by a high spiking fever that comes and goes for several days, weeks or months. A pinkish rash may also appear on the chest and thighs. In some cases, the fever and rash develop months before joint inflammation. It affects boys and girls equally.
- Enthesitis (EN-the-SIGH-tus) related arthritis causes inflammation of the entheses – places where muscles and tendons attach to bones. It causes pain and swelling in specific joints and other areas of the body, including the heels, toes, fingers, elbows, pelvis and chest. This type of juvenile arthritis is more common among boy than girls.
- Psoriatic (SOAR-ee-at-tik) arthritis causes joint inflammation as well as skin conditions. A scaly rash may appear long before or after joint inflammation becomes a problem. These rashes often develop behind the ears or on the eyelids, elbows, knees or scalp. Psoriatic arthritis can also cause pitting and ridging on the fingernails.
- Arthritis that lasts for at least six weeks, but doesn’t match any of these descriptions perfectly can also be a form of juvenile arthritis.
The symptoms of juvenile arthritis may sound overwhelming. But there is good news. For one thing, you aren’t likely to experience every symptom on the list. Also, in most cases, the symptoms you do experience don’t last indefinitely. Instead, they come and go from day to day and can even disappear within hours. So, for example, while you may wake up sick and feverish on the morning of your class picnic, by afternoon you could feel well enough to participate and even toss a Frisbee around.
There’s no denying sometimes your symptoms could get in the way of your fun. It can be frustrating when they flare (get worse) with terrible timing or stick around much longer than you’d like. But try not to let those episodes get you down. There are many available treatments you can try to find relief – and new treatments are being researched and developed. Start working toward feeling healthy (and maybe even symptom-free) with a visit to your doctor for an exam and treatment plan.