Juvenile arthritis is chronic, but Mount Sinai’s Dr. Laura Barinstein says, “It doesn’t mean you’ll be sick all the time.”
THE SPECIALIST: Laura Barinstein
An assistant clinical professor of pediatrics at Mount Sinai, Dr. Laura Barinstein specializes in treating patients with rheumatic diseases like childhood arthritis and lupus. She is a pediatric rheumatologist with years of experience in treating children with rheumatic conditions.
WHO’S AT RISK
Most of us associate arthritis with aging, but juvenile arthritis develops in children before the age of 16.
“Juvenile arthritis is an inflammatory and autoimmune disease in which the immune system that is there to fight against infection for whatever reason mistakes the lining of the joints as foreign tissue and begins to fight it,” says Laura Barinstein. “Arthritis by definition presents with swelling, pain and limitation in range of motion.”
The joint most commonly affected is the knee, though arthritis can develop in any joint.
Juvenile arthritis is one of the most common childhood diseases. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated in 2007 that as many as 1 out of 250 American children has been diagnosed with the disease.
“Juvenile arthritis is chronic, which means it’s usually a lifetime disease, though it doesn’t mean you’ll be sick all the time,” says Barinstein. “It’s also idiopathic, which means nobody knows how you get it.”
There are several similarities and some differences between arthritis in children and adults. “The impact of arthritis in a growing child is very different and can lead to deformity and disability,” says Barinstein. “Children with arthritis are at risk of developing jaw deformity or uveitis, an inflammatory eye disease that can lead to blindness.”
While there are many classifications of juvenile arthritis, or JA, most kids with the commonest subtype experience the onset of symptoms between the ages of 2 and 5.
“Although some varieties are more common in girls and some in boys, both genders of all ages are at risk,” says Barinstein. “There is also an elevated risk in families where relatives have autoimmune diseases of any kind, including multiple sclerosis and thyroid disease.”
Children have a mildly increased risk if they have a parent or sibling who has juvenile arthritis.
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS
The many different types of juvenile arthritis cause a range of symptoms. “It’s a very heterogeneous group of conditions, but the thing in common is a swollen joint that is often tender, sometimes warm, and limited in motion,” says Barinstein. “Patients complain of pain and stiffness.”