The alarming number of Canadian children and adolescents struck by arthritis debunks the common myth that arthritis is just a disease of the elderly, according to The Arthritis Society. Affecting about 1 in 1,000 Canadians under the age of 16, juvenile arthritis (JA) is a leading chronic disease among kids in this country.
The alarming number of Canadian children and adolescents struck by arthritis debunks the common myth that arthritis is just a disease of the elderly, according to The Arthritis Society.
Affecting about 1 in 1,000 Canadians under the age of 16, juvenile arthritis (JA) is a leading chronic disease among kids in this country. The Arthritis Society uses Juvenile Arthritis Awareness Month in March to heighten awareness of this disease and to raise much-needed funds for research that will find better treatments and, ultimately, a cure.
"Arthritis is a crushing reality for many children in Canada; it's not just their parents or grandparents who are at risk," says Dr. Brian Feldman, Vice Chair of The Arthritis Society's Medical Advisory Committee and a pediatric rheumatologist at The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto. "The course of juvenile arthritis is unpredictable. Painful flare-ups may occur without warning and the child has to undergo a rigorous, time-consuming and sometimes unpleasant treatment program."
Juvenile arthritis is the result of the body's immune system not working properly. The immune system fails to recognize healthy body tissue and attacks it. Symptoms include excruciating pain and inflammation in the joints. Depending on the severity of the arthritis, some children experience irregular growth or physical disability.
Just as importantly, arthritis can take a serious social and emotional toll on a child. The pain of the disease can prevent children with JA from participating in regular childhood activities, like sports and recreation, or prevent children from easily performing tasks that are taken for granted, such as buttoning clothing and carrying books to school.
As a result, a child with JA can feel isolated and sad. Lea-Anne McConnell can still remember the difficult transition both her daughters underwent when first diagnosed with juvenile arthritis. "Living with arthritis is a struggle at any age, but imagine what it's like for a young girl," Mrs. McConnell says. "Neither Carolyn nor Miranda could fully understand why they couldn't always go biking or swimming with their friends."
While there is no cure for JA, effective therapies are available to help many parents and children manage the disease. Research funded by The Arthritis Society has helped kids like Carolyn and Miranda, now aged 14 and 12 respectively, lead more active, fulfilling lives. "Both my girls now take medication to control the inflammation and pain, and they are so much happier," Mrs. McConnell continues. "They still experience some discomfort, but they've resumed much of their activity. They participate in sports, volunteer, act in school plays and go camping."
The urgency of sustained investment in arthritis research is underscored not only by the lives improved, but also by the troubling fact that JA can remain a life-long condition. Indeed, JA often continues into adulthood. "Research over the last 20 years has confirmed that it's rare for juvenile arthritis to disappear after just a short time," adds Dr. Feldman. "In Canada, a high percentage of children with juvenile arthritis carry it into their adult years."
As the primary health charity funding arthritis research and programs in Canada, The Arthritis Society, along with its partners, is currently investing in a National Research Initiative studying juvenile arthritis to better understand the disease and how to treat it. This National Research Initiative consists of a team of outstanding researchers from across Canada who are investigating how the interaction of genes, the environment and lifestyle in the early stages of juvenile arthritis can help predict outcomes, including the anticipated extent of joint damage and diminished quality of life.
"This is a remarkable project that cements Canada's place as a global leader in juvenile arthritis care and research," Dr. Feldman continues. "As we acquire a greater understanding of what causes arthritis among children, which the National Research Initiative promises to accomplish, we hope to uncover even more treatment options for this terrible disease and move that much closer towards finding a cure."
For everyone affected by arthritis - a child with juvenile arthritis, the parents and siblings of a child with JA, or an adult who is still living with JA - The Arthritis Society can help. Our toll-free Arthritis Information Line at 1.800.321.1433 and website at www.arthritis.ca provide useful information, resources and support. There are also numerous information sessions run by The Arthritis Society to help people manage the disease.
Reference: The Arthritis Society is Canada's principal health charity which empowers the nearly 4.5 million Canadians with arthritis to live their lives to the fullest by combating the daily limitations of arthritis. In the last 60 years, The Society has invested more than $165 million towards arthritis research to develop better treatments and, ultimately, find a cure.