Conditions Resembling OA
Some invasive conditions can affect the joints as well as the muscles, organs, and other tissues of the body, which can make diagnosis difficult. Since OA is quite rare in children, your doctor may want to investigate further by checking for chronic conditions with similar symptoms, like:
- Juvenile arthritis. This is a broad term for the types of arthritis that strike people before and during adolescence. It can affect a few joints (pauciarticular disease), more than five joints (polyarticular disease), or the whole body (systemic disease). Inflammation comes in different degrees depending on the subset, and fatigue and anemia commonly accompany the pain and swelling.
- Lupus. A surprisingly common autoimmune disease, lupus can bring symptoms that can mimic the pain of arthritis. Since the symptoms are widespread, the pain can travel to a number of joint areas, and the stiffness and swelling can be immobilizing. It’s important to diagnose lupus as early as possible, before the disease has time to attack the organs and central nervous system.
- Kawasaki’s disease. One of the types of arthritis that occurs most often in children, Kawasaki’s disease is an inflammatory condition that can lead to serious cardiac complications. Over 80% of patients are under the age of 5, and since swelling and joint pain on both sides of the body is a fairly common symptom, it can be easy to misdiagnose the disorder. Rash and widespread redness distinguishes Kawasaki’s disease from other diseases, in many cases.
- Scoliosis. Sometimes a bone is abnormally placed in the spine at birth, which causes the prominent side-to-side curvature of the spine known as congenital scoliosis. In other cases, children suffer from idiopathic scoliosis, which has no distinct cause. Sometimes a limp, uneven gait, or other movement problem can suggest arthritis, but is in fact a defect of the spine rather than inflammation of the joints.
Diagnosing and Treating OA in Children
An accurate diagnosis begins with accurate reporting on the part of the patient. Unfortunately, children may have a hard time communicating their pain, so it’s important to help them to voice their discomforts. If you notice something strange with their movements or behaviour – stiffness, limping, achiness, and sleepiness, for example – you should ask them to describe what they’re feeling, and then make an appointment with your pediatrician. It’s important that you don’t dismiss complaints as “growing pains”.
A physical assessment is a good first step when a joint issue is suspected. Your physician can carry out a gait analysis, range of motion tests, and a thorough physical exam (with a CT scan or MRI, if needed) to uncover the source of the problem. If arthritis is present, treatment can begin with anti-inflammatories, topical painkillers, physical therapy, or perhaps surgery.
Living with arthritis is physically and emotionally demanding, and the challenges can be overwhelming for a young person. Anger, irritability or refusal to take medications is natural; you’ll need to work with your child to help them understand how and why they need to keep their body healthy and protected. Growing up with chronic pain and inflammation is not easy, but an early diagnosis and lots of emotional support can go far to improving your child’s quality of life and attitude.