How is juvenile rheumatoid arthritis treated?
Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis and its symptoms, such as pain and long-term joint and eye damage, can be managed with treatment.
Your child’s doctor may recommend a combination of treatments that may include medicine to relieve pain, along with physical therapy and exercise. Physical therapy and an exercise plan can help your child maintain range of motion and strength without causing further damage to the joints.
Can medicine help?
Your child’s doctor will probably suggest an over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), such as ibuprofen (brand names: Advil, Motrin), to reduce joint swelling.
If these medicines do not help your child’s symptoms, your child’s doctor may suggest a combination of NSAIDs with slow-acting anti-inflammatory medicines, which are more powerful and may slow down the progression of the disease.
If symptoms and risk of damage are severe, your child may need steroid treatment to reduce inflammation. With all of these medicines, regular testing must be done to watch for side effects.
Newer medicines allow doctors to treat the autoimmune problems that cause juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. These medicines help slow your child’s immune system so it doesn’t cause further damage to joints. These may be prescribed if anti-inflammatory drugs alone are not helping.
What about surgery?
Rarely, children need surgery to help treat juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. Soft tissue surgery to repair joints may be needed if the joints have become badly bent or deformed. Joint replacement surgery may be needed if joints are badly damaged.
With proper treatment, though, many children can eventually lead full, normal and even symptom-free lives.
Tips for Dealing with Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis
- Taking a hot shower, using a hot or cold pack, or sleeping in a warm bed or sleeping bag can help relieve stiffness.
- Your child’s doctor can show him or her special exercises, including stretches and range-of-motion exercises, that can also help reduce joint stiffness and improve flexibility.
- Have your child take his or her medicines at the same time as some other activity, such as eating breakfast. This might help to remind your child to take medicines at the right time.
- Doing exercises or other activities at the same time every day, as recommended by your doctor or physical therapist, can help your child remember to do these activities. For example, they can do their stretches while they watch their favorite afternoon TV show.
Will my child be able to be active?
It’s actually important for your child to be as active as possible. Regular exercise, including games and sports, can be an important part of managing juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. But be sure to check with your doctor before your child starts any new sports or activities.
Chronic Musculoskeletal Pain in Children: Part II. Rheumatic Causes by JL Junnila, VW Cartwright (American Family Physician July 15, 2006, http://www.aafp.org/afp/20060715/293.html)
Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff