Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis (JIA) previously known as Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis (JRA) occurs about as frequently in kids as Diabetes. So, it’s worthwhile to learn a few things about it! JIA, like celiac disease, type 1 diabetes, and hypothyroidism, is a type of autoimmune disease. Dr. Ann Reed, MD—Chair of the Department of Pediatrics at Duke Children’s Hospital, Professor of Pediatrics at Duke University Medical Center, and a trained Rheumatologist Immunologist—shared these important tips for parents on identifying and preventing joint, muscle and autoimmune disease.
- Be able to recognize joint issues. Keep an eye out, if one day your child stops wanting to do the things that they normally would want to do. If they suddenly don’t want to use their hand, you notice a limp, or they cry when you change their diaper (as though moving their hip hurts), talk to your Primary Care Provider.
- Know the symptoms of autoimmune disease. Since there are so many types of autoimmune disease, the symptoms vary. But some possible red flags include the child not gaining weight, belly pain and gas, and symptoms of joint pain. Or, if a child seems fatigued and they have dry skin and hair, it’s a good idea to do a thyroid check.
- Vaccinate your kids and treat infections. A possible trigger of juvenile arthritis is a reaction to an infection or virus. Vaccinating reduces the risk of infection from diseases, which likely reduces risk of autoimmune disease. And, if your child does get an infection, treat it promptly.
- Get out and play! “Being out and being physical is really important”, says Dr. Reed. Physical activity promotes healthy joints, muscles and bones.
- Eat a healthy diet. Ensure your kids are getting enough Calcium and Vitamin D to keep bones and muscles strong. If kids aren’t getting enough, a supplement can help.
- Don’t fall for the wives’ tales. Has someone ever told you that you’d get rheumatoid arthritis from cracking your knuckles? Don’t worry, there’s no known connection between knuckle-cracking and rheumatoid arthritis. Also, have you ever heard that autoimmune disease can be caused by Aluminum in vaccines? Clinical data doesn’t show any connection there either.
- Cuddle your kids. After hearing all this, you may feel like you need to watch and analyze your kids’ every move. But as a mother and physician, Dr. Reed suggested something else. “The time you spend holding and cuddling your child is so valuable to you and your child,” shared Dr. Reed, “So, don’t be afraid to just sit and hold your child. Laugh, sing and talk to them.”
Now you have a better idea of some red flags to take to your primary care provider, if you spot them. Hopefully, you won’t need these, but Dr. Reed assured me that outcomes are typically good, especially when these diseases are caught early. So, now you can focus on the more fun part of her advice—get back to cuddling your little one.
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