EXPERT ADVICE: Can my child have arthritis?

Babies as young as 3 months can show signs of the condition, known as Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis, or JIA.

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Joint pain and swelling ― such arthritis symptoms are usually experience by the elderly.

It’s no wonder then that one mum was shocked when she found out that her 3-month-old baby suffers from arthritis (read her story here).

Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis (JIA) is a chronic condition that causes joint inflammation in the body of a child under age 16, explains Dr Elizabeth Ang, a paediatric consultant at the Division of Allergy, Immunology and Rheumatology at the National University Hospital.

Here are details about this condition.

Dr Ang, what exactly causes JIA?
We don’t know the exact cause of arthritis, and scientists are still looking for the causes of juvenile arthritis. But it’s most likely an autoimmune disease. This means that the body’s immune system, which is meant to fight off infections, starts to attack its own healthy cells and tissues. The immune system is meant to defend ourselves by causing inflammation and swelling. In juvenile arthritis, the body creates an inflammation in the joints, meaning that the white blood cells produce chemicals that harm the lining of the joint. There is no proof that diet, allergies, stress or vitamin deficiencies cause JIA. There is a genetic predisposition to the condition, but genetic markers alone cannot predict who will get arthritis. Scientists believe that a trigger, like a virus, can set off the disease process in children with the genetic tendency. 

There is no proof that diet, allergies, stress or vitamin deficiencies cause JIA.

How common is this condition?
JIA is the most common form of chronic arthritis in kids. There are about 500 children with JIA in Singapore. NUH sees about 70 to 80 active patients in total. That said, the number of children going to Paediatric Rheumatology Clinics for evaluation of joint pain is about twice as many as those with JIA.

What are the signs and symptoms and how do parents know when to send their child to a doctor to be checked out?
The most common symptoms of juvenile arthritis are joint swelling, pain and stiffness of the joint. Any joint may be affected, but the knees, hands, feet are most commonly affected. The symptoms are usually worse in the morning, after prolonged sitting or a nap. Not all children with juvenile arthritis will have the same symptoms. Some symptoms are specific to a subtype of JIA. Symptoms may change from day to day, or even within the same day. Sometimes, the symptoms go away or get worse.

Signs may include:

* Limping in the morning.

* Clumsiness, reduced physical activity.

* High fever and skin rash.

* Swelling in the lymph nodes and other parts of the body.

* The affected joint may feel warm.