Juvenile arthritis is an autoimmune disease. This means that your immune system goes a little bit haywire and sends out white blood cells to attack the body’s own healthy cells instead of fighting off the usual bad ones, like viruses and harmful bacteria (a good example: the flu or when you germs get into a cut). The result is inflammation in your joints and a host of other issues, depending upon which kind of JA you have.
There’s no question that JA is a pain, pun intended. In fact, joint pain is a common symptom of juvenile arthritis. Here are some others you may recognize:
• Joint swelling
• Joint stiffness
• Joint tenderness
• Joint redness and warmth
• Limited movement in joints
• Persistent or recurring fever
• Vision problems
• Slow growth
• Swollen lymph nodes
Sometimes JA symptoms seem like they could be something else. Maybe you’re tired because you stayed up too late studying for a test or you’re stiff after a sporting event. It can take a while before JA is diagnosed.
14-year-old Arianna N. had that experience. “Sometime in 2006 I started to have trouble with my right wrist, lots of pain and swelling, and, at first, we thought I was sleeping on it funny because it was stiff in the mornings. Then a couple of months later it started in the left wrist. Not long after that it was in my ankle.” It took a year before Arianna was diagnosed with JA by a pediatric rheumatologist, a doctor who specializes in arthritis and joint problems in children.
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