Arthritis is much more common in older people but it does affect 1–2 in 1000 children. There are several different types of arthritis in children, including juvenile chronic arthritis (JCA), juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (JRA), juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA) and Still's disease (systemic JIA).
Most types of arthritis in children are due to an autoimmune disorder; the body begins to attack its own cells due to an inappropriate immune response. Signs of arthritis in children include red, swollen, painful joints and morning stiffness. Children may also lose weight for no reason, feel very tired and develop anaemia, fevers and rashes. In severe cases, arthritis in children can cause inflammation within other tissues, including the lungs, heart, eyes and abdominal wall, making them feel very poorly.
Paediatric treatment for arthritis in children is available through the NHS system and in the private sector. For rarer conditions, you may be referred to specialist centres.
How is arthritis in children diagnosed?
Diagnosis of arthritis in children will usually be based on your child’s symptoms, a physical examination, blood tests to check the levels of haemoglobin and autoantibodies (markers of autoimmune diseases), and scans or X-rays to detect inflammation of the joints and other tissues.
How is arthritis in children treated?
Physiotherapy, occupational therapy and regular exercise are crucial to maintain the function of your child’s joints and to help prevent issues with growth and development. Treating arthritis in children usually involves drug therapy; arthritis drugs may either reduce the symptoms or tackle the underlying cause of the disease.
Painkillers such as paracetamol, anti-inflammatory drugs such as ibuprofen, and steroids such as prednisolone treat arthritis in children by reducing the symptoms of joint pain and swelling. Other drugs aim to target the cause of the disease rather than just the symptoms – these are known as disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs).
Traditional DMARDs such as methotrexate can help to control arthritis in children by modifying their immune response. Newer DMARDs, known as biological DMARDs, have been designed to target the immune response that is directly responsible for the arthritis. Because they are more specific, they can be very effective and often have fewer side effects. Etanercept is one biological DMARD now used to treat arthritis in children who have not responded well to other therapies. If given early enough, the right combination of drugs can induce remission in many children, and this can then be maintained in the longer-term with milder therapies.
Private treatment for arthritis in children
Although NHS care is good, opting for private treatment means that waiting lists and cost restraints are avoided. Arthritis in children is more likely to be diagnosed quickly and your child will receive the right therapy sooner rather than later. Private treatment can also mean that your child has access to a full range of one-to-one physical therapy from physiotherapists and occupational therapists to minimise the impact of their condition on their physical development and abilities. If you have private healthcare insurance it is always worth finding out what private care is available for children with arthritis both locally and in nationally-recognised specialist centres.
Other bone and muscle disorders in children
Private care is also available for range of other childhood conditions that affect the bones or muscles, including:
Brittle bone disease – a genetic condition and the most common disease causing fractures in children.
Rickets – softening of the bones seen in children with vitamin D deficiency.
Bone infections (osteomyelitis) that can occur after injury.
Duchenne muscular dystrophy – a rare but severe form of muscular dystrophy that leads to rapid muscle degeneration eventually leading to complete paralysis.