An 18-month-old baby's mysterious illness is revealed to be a condition that is more commonly found in older people. Find out more about juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA) here.
Blaze Sullivan, from Bolton, UK, was a normal baby girl, with no outward signs of any health problems. However, when she developed a mystery illness early this year, her mother Kelly Sullivan became very concerned at the onset of these alarming symptoms:
“At first she got a rash all over her and a high temperature and she didn’t want to walk. Then she started walking with a limp, and it got progressively worse and her knee swelled up to the size of a tennis ball.”
Kelly took Blaze to various doctors, who believed that Blaze had a viral infection. They prescribed antibiotics for the girl’s condition but she still did not show signs of recovery. It was not until many medical tests later and after being admitted to Manchester Children’s Hospital in March that Blaze was diagnosed with systemic juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA).
A mother’s surprise
As expected of a mother of a young baby, Kelly says that she was taken back by the diagnosis: “I didn’t know a two-year-old could get arthritis. It’s not something you think they can have.”
Now Blaze has to take a daily round of drug, weekly injections and steroids to control the symptoms of JIA. According to her mother, the drugs have given Blaze much needed relief but she cannot have a life as a normal baby now:
“She should be able to run around like any normal toddler. And I can’t get her into a nursery because one of the drugs she takes, methotrexate, affects the immune system and they won’t take her.”
Raising awareness of JIA among parents
Blaze is one of over 1,300 children who are now taking part in a study overseen by the University of Manchester, and backed by a charity called Arthritis Research UK, which aims to discover more about JIA.
Geneticist Professor Wendy Thomson, who is one of the researchers working on the study, stated: “There is so little known (about JIA). Parents often say there’s a lack of information about what might happen to their child.”
Children in the study are followed up annually until the age of 16, with more future checks at the age of 18 and 21.
Kelly gave her reasons for her and Blaze’s involvement: “When it was explained they they didn’t know much about the illness and wanted to find out more, I decided to get involved….If that helps another family in the future, rather than them having to go through months waiting to find out what it is, it’s worth it.”
What is Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis (JIA)?
JIA stands for Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis. Juvenile means that the arthritis starts in children and young persons before the age of 16 years. Idiopathic means that doctors still do not know what causes this disease. Arthritis means that one or more than one joints are inflamed – that is they are swollen, painful, stiff and the child may not be able to move them as normal.
What are the signs and symptoms of JIA ?
The most common symptoms are joint pain, joint stiffness and joint swelling. Joint pains are usually not very severe and most often just mild to moderate in intensity. However, very young kids may not complain of any joint pains because they might not recognize that there is something out of the ordinary. Some older children may have swollen joints but do not suffer from much pain. Therefore, not every child who has joint pains has arthritis, and similarly not every child with arthritis has joint pains.
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