What is Juvenile Arthritis?
Arthritis is often thought of as an older person’s disease, something Grandma and Grandpa may complain about it. But almost 300,000 kids in the United States have a similar condition called juvenile arthritis. Some kids develop this disease even before they start kindergarten.
Having juvenile arthritis doesn’t mean you’re getting old faster than your friends. Instead, it means you’re under 16 and you have trouble with your joints—places on your body where bones come together, like your knees or in your hands. Juvenile arthritis causes your immune system to attack your body, which creates inflammation. Your joints become swollen and tender. It can be hard to move around. You might feel stiff getting out of bed in the morning or find it painful to hold a paintbrush or participate in gym.
Juvenile arthritis isn’t just one disorder. It’s actually a term for several different disorders kids can get that cause inflammation. The different types will be explained in the next section.
Some doctors use the term “idiopathic” (id-ee-oh-PATH-ik) when talking about juvenile arthritis. The word “idiopathic” means scientists don’t know what causes it. Whatever the cause, it’s not your fault. You didn’t get juvenile arthritis from sneaking junk food or skipping your vitamins. (Not that you’d ever do that!) It isn’t contagious, so if your friends are afraid they’ll catch it from you, tell them they have nothing to worry about.
Living with juvenile arthritis isn’t always easy. You may experience flares, or periods when the disease gets worse. With treatment, however, you can also expect to feel better for stretches of time. There is no cure for juvenile arthritis, but if you stay strong, positive and motivated, you will be able to manage your symptoms.