New Hope for Children with Arthritis

A new treatment shows encouraging results for children with a severe form of arthritis, according to research presented at the annual meeting of the American College of Rheumatology.

Researchers are looking for new ways to treat systemic-onset juvenile idiopathic arthritis, a severe form of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis that affects between 25,000 and 50,000 American children. Systemic means it affects the whole body, including the child’s internal organs as well as his or her joints. It usually begins with high fevers and a rash and can often be confused with other infections. Doctors say one clue to look for is that with systemic-onset arthritis, the fever usually goes away for at least part of every day. During those times the child does not look or feel sick, but when the fever spikes, the child looks very sick and does not want to be touched.

Researchers in Japan tested the safety and effectiveness of an anti-IL-6 receptor antibody in a small study of children with this condition. Interleukin 6 (IL-6) is a type of protein that promotes inflammation and has been found to be present in high amounts in patients with inflammatory arthritis, according to researchers. In this study, the children received varying doses of the antibody over several weeks. Researchers found almost all of the children who took the medication showed significant improvement. Doctors also found that the more medication the children took, the better their results were. Plus, the children experienced few side effects.

“The dramatic improvement by this new therapy will give these children great hope,” says an investigator in the study. He also says this news is so encouraging because this is one of the most severe childhood diseases and currently limited treatment options are available to children.

About 200,000 children in the United States have some form of arthritis. Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (JRA) is a chronic disease that may last for many years in some children. Joint inflammation is the most common symptom of JRA, and it causes heat, pain, swelling and stiffness in joints. Systemic JRA is the least common form of juvenile arthritis, and boys and girls are equally as likely to get it. In some children, the fever may go away completely but the joint-related symptoms may remain for years.

No one knows what causes the disease, although heredity may play a part. Doctors say to watch for high fevers that rise daily to 102 degrees or even higher and rapidly return to normal levels or below. Also watch for a faint salmon-colored rash that come and goes and does not itch.

This article was reported by Ivanhoe, who offers Medical Alerts by e-mail every day of the week.

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