Juvenile Arthritis

June 21, 2017

Most people think arthritis only affects older people, but that is far from the truth.

Juvenile Arthritis has become a chronic childhood illness. About 300,000 children in the United States are diagnosed with arthritis. Typical symptoms include inflammation (swelling), joint pain, stiffness and tenderness. Morning time limping is also an early sign of juvenile arthritis.

Rheumatologist and FDA clinical team leader Nikolay Nikolov offers hope for those who have juvenile arthritis. Over the past few years, drug companies have been developing new treatments that can control the disease and its effects, which may reduce the onset of physical disability in later adult years.

The cause of juvenile arthritis is unknown, but what scientists do know is it is an autoimmune disorder in which the immune system attacks its own body tissue.

Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis (JIA) is the name known for the collective group of conditions classified as juvenile arthritis that start before age 1 and has symptoms lasting for at least 6 weeks.

The wrists, ankles, knees and even smaller joints are impacted by JIA. Polyarticular JIA is the largest JIA subgroup because it impacts several joints. Systemic JIA is another subgroup that impacts the entire body and can cause skin rashes and fever.

Past treatment for juvenile arthritis included NSAIDS (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) like aspirin and ibuprofen. Corticosteroids and methotrexate are used in more severe cases to suppress immune response to the joints.

FDA-approved biologics (medicines originating from biological sources) are now being used to treat both systemic and polyarticular JIA.

Current JIA Treatments

Because of advanced science, doctors are now able to determine what encourages the occurrence of arthritis. Cytokines (molecules responsible for inflammation control in the body) like interleukins (IL), tumor necrosis factor (TNF) and other natural proteins that facilitate immune responses are the focus of new medicines.

Biologics are administered intravenously or subcutaneously (under the skin) over the course of several years to maintain symptom relief.  Not all biologics work the same on all subgroups of JIA.

Currently, there is no data on the long-term effects of these newer medications on children, but there is a lot of information on how these drugs affect adults with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). One also should be mindful that biologics suppressing the immune system can increase the risk of infections like tuberculosis in children.

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