What a JA Diagnosis Means for Your Child
Experts answer common questions about juvenile arthritis (JA) and how it may impact your child’s life.
By Mary Anne Dunkin
Can my child still play sports? Will he have a normal school life? Will she eventually outgrow the disease? Is there anything I can do? If your child was recently diagnosed with juvenile arthritis (JA), your mind is undoubtedly filled with questions as you navigate this uncharted territory. Below, pediatric rheumatologists answer some of the most common questions they hear from parents of newly diagnosed children.
JA Q & A
Q: Can my child still play sports?
Kelly Rouster-Stevens, MD, associate professor of pediatrics at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, offers one caution: If joints such as the knees, ankles and wrists have active disease, children may want to avoid high-impact sports. But once the disease is controlled, any sport they are comfortable with is fine, she says, noting that her patients include varsity football, basketball and soccer players.
If you have concerns about sports safety, discuss them with your child’s rheumatologist or physical therapist.
Q: Will my child be able to go to school as normal?
Q: Is there anything I can do to slow down the disease?
If you discover or suspect that your child is having a flare (her disease is becoming more active – often evidenced by painful, swollen joints), it is important to get in touch with her doctor to see if she needs a boost or change in medication.
Aside from good medical treatment, it is important that your child practices healthy habits, including getting plenty of sleep, participating in regular physical activity and eating a balanced diet, says Dr. Onel. She cautions against special diets that will make your child feel left out or resentful. If it’s a good diet for your child with arthritis, it’s a good diet for everyone in the family, too, she says.
Because arthritis can affect growing bones, Dr. Rouster-Stevens recommends serving your child calcium-rich dairy products and asking her doctor if she needs a vitamin D supplement. Other calcium-rich foods include leafy greens, beans and soy-products and fortified orange juice and cereal.
Q: Is my child more likely to get sick?
Q: What kinds of medications will my child need to take? Are there any harmful side effects?
In general, treatment may include:
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, including pain and inflammation relievers like ibuprofen or naproxen.
- Corticosteroids, potent inflammation fighters such as prednisone or prednisolone. These are generally used to manage the disease until other medications start working.
- Disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs), or drugs that modify the course of the disease such as methotrexate or sulfasalazine.
- Biologic agents, a type of disease-modifying drug that is genetically engineered from living organisms – such as a virus, gene or protein – to interfere with specific cells and pathways in the immune system.
All drugs carry the risk of side effects. Depending on the specific drugs your child is taking, these side effects may include upset stomach and increased risk for infections. Your doctor will let you know what to watch for and what to do if your child experiences side effects.
Q: Will my child ever “grow out” of arthritis?
Diagnosed With Juvenile Arthritis?
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