The under-explored issue of juvenile arthritis will be the focus for Arthritis Awareness Week (15-21 March) in 2015, highlighting the fact that reduced awareness – among the community and among health professionals – often results in delayed diagnosis and treatment.
“There’s as many people with juvenile arthritis as there are with juvenile diabetes, but very few people are aware of that fact,” says Franca Marine, National Policy and Government Relations Manager, Arthritis Australia.
“It’s an opportune time to raise awareness so that people in general, and health care professionals, are more attuned to it. There are about 6000 kids in the country affected at any one time, so it’s not the most common, but of the chronic diseases of childhood it’s up there in frequency.
“From a pharmacist’s point of view, we like to talk about using every opportunity we can for people to be alerted to the fact that kids and young people can actually get arthritis,” she told the AJP.
“Often, those forms are inflammatory and may need urgent medical attention. Any assistance pharmacists can provide in identifying people who may be developing these forms of arthritis, and in recommending they see their doctor as soon as possible, can help.”
Early diagnosis and treatment is important in juvenile arthritis, to prevent joint damage and other complications – but parents often find they need to see several doctors and specialists before they are sent to a paediatric rheumatologist or receive a diagnosis for their child. Some symptoms may not immediately lead parents to consider juvenile arthritis, such as pain accompanied by fever and a rash.
“The main aim is to try and control the disease and get them into remission,” Ms Marine says. “Delays can mean a child is struggling with pain when they’re young, which can affect their development physically and socially.
“Even with treatment, there’s that sense of not being able to participate in sports and other school activities in the same way, or even not being able to sit on the floor in the classroom. It’s quite a difficult condition to live with.”
Children may also be faced with complications such as uveitis, which can cause vision loss.
Ms Marine says there is anecdotal evidence of pharmacists expressing concern when asked to dispense scripts for certain medicines, such as methotrexate.
“These medicines treat, and very importantly help prevent, joint damage and deformity,” she says. “So be aware that these medicines may seem a bit extreme, but they’re very important to prevent long-term complications and can help to get the disease into remission.”
Arthritis Australia and its state branches are planning events around the country including shopping centre displays, community walks and seminars for health professionals.