More than 200,000 children in the US are believed to have arthritis, according to a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Juvenile arthritis can cause similar symptoms to those of arthritis in adults, including joints that are stiff, painful, or tender.
The researchers behind the new CDC report found that from 2017 to 2021, about 220,000 children in the US had an arthritis diagnosis. Previous estimates of the number of juvenile arthritis cases had varied widely, ranging from 13,400 to 294,000 cases. The Arthritis Foundation puts the estimated number of children in the US with juvenile arthritis even higher, at 300,000.
Arthritis affects nearly a quarter of all adults in the US, or roughly 58.5 million people, according to CDC data.
The CDC report found that the condition was most common among children aged 12 to 17. The prevalence of juvenile arthritis among African American or non-Hispanic Black children was twice that of non-Hispanic white children.
Juvenile arthritis was often seen alongside a number of other conditions, including anxiety, depression, and physical inactivity; the condition was also associated with being overweight and living with food insecurity.
Juvenile arthritis isn’t a single disease but rather an umbrella term for a group of conditions, and it’s also referred to as paediatric rheumatic disease, per the Arthritis Foundation. The most common types are juvenile idiopathic arthritis, scleroderma, fibromyalgia, juvenile polymyositis, and juvenile dermatomyositis. The most common among these is juvenile idiopathic arthritis, of which there are six different subtypes.
Symptoms of juvenile arthritis can vary depending on which specific condition a child has, but they often include joints that are stiff, painful, warm, tender, or swollen; difficulty moving; and joint pain that worsens when a child wakes up or after a child stays in the same position for too long. Some skin symptoms — like a butterfly-shaped rash across the nose and cheeks; thick patches of skin; scaly, red rash; or light spotted pink rash — can also occur, as can chronic eye inflammation, bloating, diarrhoea, shortness of breath, and fatigue.
Given the wide range of symptoms that can occur with juvenile arthritis, children often need to see a specialist, such as a rheumatologist, to determine the best course of action after a diagnosis.
There is no cure for juvenile arthritis, but treatments that help make children more comfortable are available. These are usually focused on relieving pain and other symptoms, preventing joint damage, reducing the long-term health effects of juvenile arthritis, and stopping inflammation.
Corticosteroids — which can help with inflammation — are sometimes used to treat juvenile arthritis, as are nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), which relieve pain.
The new CDC report suggests that introducing more physical activity, weight management, and treating mental health conditions may help some children with juvenile arthritis, given that it’s often diagnosed alongside anxiety or depression, or among children who are overweight.
Though there is no cure, some children with the condition achieve permanent remission, per the CDC.
It’s not clear what causes juvenile arthritis, but some experts think it may occur when a virus triggers certain genes. Bacteria or other external factors may also trigger the condition, per the Arthritis Foundation. Experts do not have evidence that any foods, allergies, or toxins can cause juvenile arthritis.
The new CDC report suggests that more studies need to be done to determine how best to help children with juvenile arthritis, given its prevalence in the US; the authors of the analysis acknowledged that “little is known” about arthritis in people under 18.