Catching Arthritis Early Is Important in Protecting Children
Posted May 23, 2007 4:27 p.m. EDT
Raleigh, N.C. — Arthritis is the leading cause of disability in this country, affecting 46 million adults in one or another of its forms. In children, an estimated 285,000 have some form of juvenile arthritis.
Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, so-named because it can develop in early childhood, is one of the most harmful forms. By the time it's recognized, irreversible damage to the joints may already be done. That makes early diagnosis and treatment vital.
One who knows well is Grace Danuck. When she was 3 years old, her parents noticed she was moving slowly.
“And then I did get a high fever and swelling in some joints — I believe, the knees,” Danuck said.
She had juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. She needed hip surgery at age 7, but then seemed to grow out of the disease until after college.
“I moved to North Carolina. Six months later, my knees started swelling up like balloons,” Danuck recalled.
She had the disease in its adult form. She's had two hips replaced and one knee. She can't bend over to put on her own socks, so she has special aids.
For children today who suffer the juvenile form of rheumatoid arthritis, treatment and recommendations have changed from what doctors advised when Danuck was a girl.
Her doctors wouldn't allow her to play like other children.
“Now,” she said, “it's really just the opposite. All the rheumatologists will tell you you have to move, you have to keep the range of motion.”
Movement is especially good in a near-weightless environment that's easy on the joints.
“I go to the pool. I swim. I try to go a couple of times a week. I come out of there like, like I have a new body,” she said.
Medication can stop the joint pain and even slow the progression of the disease. Danuck will never be able to move any better than she can now, but she said she believes regular exercise is the key to doing the best she can.
“Just got to keep moving. It's important to me to just keep going,” she said.
Parents can help protect their children by spotting symptoms early. Look for joint pain and swelling. There can be sudden high fever. Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis can develop early enough that a child won't crawl on its knees like other babies.
Once the disease is diagnosed, doctors are more aggressive than they once were in treating it, prescribing stronger "disease modifying anti-rheumatic drugs" or D-MARDS. Arthritis is an autoimmune disease, so research is focused on finding ways to stop the immune system from attacking joints and tissues.