Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis: Does It Affect Physical Appearance?

Some children with juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA) may look different because they have growth or skin problems. This condition, which was previously known as juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (JRA), can affect a child’s physical appearance. Fortunately, several therapies—most non-surgical—can treat these problems to preserve the child’s self-esteem and long-term health.
A group of active children running in the parkSome children with juvenile idiopathic arthritis may look different because they have growth problems. Photo Source: 123RF.com.

What Are the Common Signs of Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis?

When exploring how JIA affects a child’s physical appearance, it’s helpful to review some of the common visible signs and symptoms of the disease:

  • Swollen joints
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Rash
  • Limping
  • Inability to completely bend or straighten joints

JIA affects every child differently, so not every child will experience these physical signs and symptoms. However, it’s important to see a doctor soon after any of these signs appear. The sooner you see a doctor, the better able your doctor will be to treat the issue and prevent long-term problems. You can read more in our article about juvenile idiopathic arthritis symptoms.

How Does Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis Affect Growth?

Depending on the severity of the disease and the joints involved, the child’s joints may grow too fast or too slow. When joints grow unevenly, the child may have a leg or arm that is longer than the other leg or arm.

The inflammatory response of JIA can also slow the child’s overall physical growth rate, but this may also be caused from corticosteroid use to treat the disease. In addition to impacting growth, corticosteroids can also change the child’s appearance by causing weight gain and a round face. When your pediatric rheumatologist or other doctor stops prescribing corticosteroid medication, these side effects may disappear.

Can Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis Cause Joint Deformity?

If the disease is left untreated, JIA can cause joint deformities. For example, untreated JIA that affects the jaw can cause the chin to become undersized. In the spine, severe cases of JIA affecting the spinal joints may cause the spine to curve abnormally. While non-surgical treatments are typically successful at treating JIA, your doctor may recommend spine surgery to correct a spinal deformity and/or prevent it from worsening.

What Skin Problems Are Associated with Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis?

Some types of JIA are linked to skin problems. For example, dry and scaly skin is closely associated with psoriatic JIA, while children with systemic JIA may develop a rash. If you notice any skin changes in your child, talk to your pediatric rheumatologist or other doctor about medication to clear skin and ease other symptoms.

How Do Doctors Address Appearance Changes Caused by Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis?

A JIA diagnosis can cause a lot of negative emotions in children—and adding physical appearance changes can make things even tougher on them. Fortunately, several therapies can help ease the pain, inflammation, and physical effects of the disease.

In addition to a medication regimen to help control pain and prevent further joint damage, your doctor may refer your child to a physical therapist to learn stretches and exercises to increase joint mobility and function, and prevent joints from tightening. A physical therapist can also teach your child good posture basics, including how to properly sit at school for joint and spine health. Strong posture may also help combat any growth-related problems from JIA.

Juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA) doesn’t have to interfere with your child’s happiness, health, and self-esteem. By seeing a doctor soon after signs and symptoms appear, your child is well positioned to have healthy long-term outcomes.

Updated on: 07/23/19
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Who Treats Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis?
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Who Treats Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis?

Most patients with juvenile idiopathic arthritis have a team of doctors working with them. The main doctor will most likely be a pediatric rheumatologist.
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