Juvenile arthritis is one of the most common childhood diseases in the United States, responsible for an average of 827,000 hospital visits to treat children and adolescents with these conditions each year. In all, around 294,000 children under the age of 18 are affected by pediatric arthritis and rheumatologic conditions. An autoimmune condition, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis is characterized by experience joint pain and stiffness, especially when getting up in the morning or after a nap, and swelling of the knees and other joints.
If the condition is not properly and promptly treated, children who have it could have poor bone development, and might not grow normally. Another condition common with juvenile arthritis is an eye inflammation called uveitis. Although uveitis is asymptomatic itself, it affects the eye's shape and can result in various vision problems later in life, including cataracts and glaucoma, and in some cases can cause total blindness. Children are more at risk for permanent damage from rheumatoid arthritis than adults are because their immune systems are still developing.
Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis is an inherited genetic disease; so far, scientists have linked variants of around 20 genes to the various forms of the condition. However, not everyone with arthritis-causing variants of those genes will develop rheumatoid arthritis. The genetics simply lead to vulnerability—someone born with the rheumatoid arthritis genetic trait will develop the disease in response to certain environmental factors that don't have that effect on most people. The leading hypothesis is that children raised in scrupulously clean environments develop autoimmune diseases such as arthritis because the immune system needs something to latch on to.
It is particularly important to treat arthritis in children because it could isolate them, leading to poor socialization during childhood. The focus of treatment is to enable kids to be physically active and socially involved with their peers. Painkillers and anti-inflammatory drugs are prescribed for the symptoms, with care taken not to interfere with the child's development. Physical therapy helps the child avoid flare-ups, and participate fully in childhood.