Angie's LIST Guide to
Pediatric Rheumatology

Pediatric rheumatology provides diagnosis and treatment for children suffering from rheumatic diseases. Specialists treat health conditions such as juvenile rheumatoid arthritis.


Photo collage of babies and doctors.
Children often are diagnosed with illnesses and conditions that affect adults, but because of their special needs, they are often referred to pediatric specialists. Specialists in all areas can provide treatment plans to improve health and quality of life.

What pediatric rheumatologists treat

Several types of rheumatic disease can afflict children, including juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, lupus and Lyme disease. When patients first come to a pediatric rheumatologist's office, they often complain of fever, skin rashes and swollen lymph nodes, as well as painful, swollen joints.

There are several types of juvenile arthritis, some of which affect girls more than boys. Examples include polyarticular juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, which can adversely affect joints in the regions of the knees, ankles and wrists, as well as the jaw, neck, hips and shoulders. This form of the disease is also referred to as juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA), as research has yet to find any underlying causes for the condition. A 2007 research study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that approximately 294,000 U.S. children below 18 years of age have been diagnosed with an arthritic or rheumatologic health condition. The same study also shows that the condition juvenile arthritis is seen more often in girls than boys.

Joint cartilage that has become damaged as a result of juvenile arthritis can result in stiffness of joints, which will lead to less flexibility in movement. Patients suffering from juvenile arthritis have a limited ability to move their limbs. Depending on the age of onset, the disease can affect overall bone growth, which may lead to a shorter height and stature.

Visiting a pediatric rheumatologist

Doctors who practice in the field of pediatric rheumatology will perform an examination of the patient and order tests, such as blood and urine tests, in addition to X-rays or an MRI. The digital imaging obtained in an X-ray or MRI will offer the doctor a clearer image of any possible joint damage that may be caused by such conditions as juvenile rheumatoid arthritis.

During a visit, the doctor will want to learn about a patient's symptoms, such as ongoing and persistent joint pain and swelling. Parents should keep a recorded list of when and how often their child experiences any type of symptom. This will better help the doctor in making decisions about the underlying cause and condition.

Because a major effect of rheumatic diseases is how they attack the joints and cause inflammation, pediatric rheumatologists will work closely with their patients in designing a plan to help rehabilitate and restore a level of normal function. Treatment may include visits with physical therapists with the goal of reducing joint swelling and gaining more flexibility and mobility in the limbs. Continued therapy helps patients to reach a more normal lifestyle. With decreased pain, patients are free to be more physically active. Expect treatments to be ongoing and to keep symptoms under control.

Rheumatology treatment options

Diagnosis and treatment entail testing and monitoring to eliminate the possibility of other illnesses that might be contributing to a patient's condition. Pediatric rheumatologists may prescribe anti-inflammatory drugs or corticosteroids to reduce swelling and pain. Other types of available treatment include disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs, also known as DMARDs, which have been used as a preventive drug to help ease and slow down the progressive symptoms of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. Some doctors may also give you the option of alternative treatments for arthritis, including acupuncture, to help reduce some pain.

To promote wellness, treatment options may consider overall health care, encompassing such treatment types as physical therapy, medication and a nutritional diet. Some rheumatoid diseases, such as arthritis, have no cure, so ongoing treatment and therapy are important in achieving fuller functional ability, keeping active and performing essential daily tasks.

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