About one in a thousand children in New Zealand suffer from Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis (JIA). This equates to about 1,000 children in NZ with a form of arthritis. Girls are twice as likely to get arthritis compared to boys.
Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis (JIA) is the general name for the various kinds of arthritis that affect children. ‘Juvenile’ means that it affects young people. ‘Idiopathic’ means that it is not known what the cause is. And ‘arthritis’ means inflammation of the joints.
JIA can present in many different ways and can range in severity. It mostly affects the joints and the surrounding tissues, although it can affect other organs such as the eyes. Some of the symptoms and signs of an inflamed joint include joint swelling, pain, tenderness, stiffness (especially in the morning), redness and warmth around the joint area. A child may not have all of these symptoms in every joint that is inflamed.
Less commonly, a child may also have other symptoms such as fever, loss of appetite and loss of weight. Due to the ongoing underlying inflammation there is also a considerable risk that, with time, the joints will become permanently damaged. This leads to a loss of joint movement and makes normal activities more difficult.
Conditions can be acute (starting suddenly or short-lived) or chronic (lasting longer but not necessarily forever). JIA is considered a chronic condition because the joints involved are inflamed for at least 6 weeks and while treatment can alleviate the symptoms it does not lead to a ‘cure’. This means that when a child is diagnosed with JIA, it is impossible to say exactly how long the condition will last. JIA can continue for months or years. Sometimes the symptoms go away, usually after treatment. This is called remission. Remission may last for months, years, or for a lifetime. Up to 50% of children with JIA may go into full remission before adulthood.