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Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis is a systemic inflammatory disease, which afflicts children under the age of 16. There are as many as 100,000 children in the United States suffering from JRA. What exactly is this chronic, potentially crippling disease? Let's take a look:

JRA is the most prevalent form of arthritis that affects children. The exact cause is unknown, but we do know that it's at least partially caused by a problem with the body's immune system. In immune system disorders, the body's own natural defenses turn on the body's cells, creating antibodies that attack and damage the body's own cells. There are three distinct types of JRA:

Pauciarticular JRA--This type of JRA involves only a few joints and perhaps the eyes of the child. The inflammation is limited, so there are usually no long-term effects with early diagnosis and treatment.
Polyarticular JRA--This type of JRA involves many joints of the body. This type is a bit more serious, and has more potential for long-term effects, like growth disturbances or joint damage.
Systemic JRA--This type of JRA is the most serious. Not only are the joints involved, but the inflammation affects internal organs and systems.

Early diagnosis is a major tool in helping treat the children who have JRA. The early signs and symptoms of JRA are fever, severe joint pain, inability to get up easily, loss of mobility and stiffness. In order to make an accurate diagnosis, a pediatric rheumatologist should be consulted. They specialize in rheumatoid illnesses, and know the signs and symptoms to look for and the tests to run to make the diagnosis. Some of the tests include x-rays, blood work to measure the amounts of inflammation and antibodies in the body and sometimes joint fluid tests.

Treatments are frequently centered on medications and physical therapies. Medications usually include salicylates like aspirin, NSAIDS like ibuprofen, and steroids like prednisone. The use of steroids is not recommended for long-term therapy, since it can have lasting side effects. Physical therapies can include massage, gentle exercises and stretching that don't cause undue fatigue, and braces or splints. Some children are temporarily relegated to the use of a walker or wheelchair, but that is not necessarily permanent.

Luckily, JRA does not usually leave any long-term effects on its victims. Complete remission occurs in 75% of patients, and children seem to benefit from the elasticity of bodies that are still growing. Children with JRA are no longer treated as "fragile" or "sick", but encouraged to become active physically and socially. Good nutrition, adequate rest, and adherence to medications and schedules from the pediatric rheumatologist add to not only a child's physical well-being, but to their mental and spiritual well-being.

New medications and treatments are becoming available all the time, and parents are encouraged by the proliferation of support groups, both online and in local communities. This support and understanding are vital to a growing child who may be scared, embarrassed, or bewildered by what is happening to his/her body. The important thing to remember is that the children affected by JRA need and deserve the very best in help, understanding and support.