Categories: Health & Fitness

Not An Old Person’s Disease: I Was Diagnosed With Juvenile Arthritis At 18

Rebecca when she was a teenager

When most people think of arthritis, they think of it as an ‘old person’s disease’. Yet more than 24,000 Canadian children live with arthritis. Children and teenagers can be affected by arthritis in many forms, and it can cause joint inflammation, stiffness, and affect a child’s growth.

Often, the cause is unknown. I know this because as a teen, I was diagnosed with juvenile arthritis. I woke up one morning with feet so sore I had to wear three pairs of socks and slippers just to walk. The joints around my fingers were so swollen, they looked like they were sausages. My elbow joints were also swollen and I was in so much pain I couldn’t lift my arms to wash my hair, let alone open the shampoo bottle.

I sobbed in the doctor’s office (while looking around at the other arthritis sufferers, who seemed so very much older than I was), wondering how I was going to live the rest of my life in such agony because it was so incredibly painful.

After a blood test confirmed the juvenile arthritis diagnosis, I cried to my rheumatologist that I was too young to have this condition and—he told me he sees many children, some as young as four, every single day.

Like so many others, I had no idea that arthritis in children and teens was prevalent and felt horrible that children so much younger than me had to suffer.

Flash forward two decades, and it seems many still don’t understand this life-long chronic condition. Thankfully, AbbVie Canada, in partnership with The Arthritis Society, has developed a comic book on childhood arthritis to bring awareness and build an understanding of this condition. 

Medikidz Explain JIA, which was written by a physician and reviewed by members of The Arthritis Society’s Childhood Arthritis Advisory Council, can help kids (and their parents) reach a deeper medical understanding of how this inflammatory disease impacts children’s lives.

Children and teenagers can be affected by a variety of forms of arthritis, which can have potentially devastating effects on developing bodies. Inflammation can affect bone growth, can lead to cataracts and blindness, and even multiple surgeries.

There is no cure for arthritis, though treatments can lower joint inflammation and pain, prevent joint damage, and help people live a full and productive life.

Your doctor can help make a plan based on age, affected areas, and how severe it is.

This, obviously, is a cause very dear to my heart. Please take a moment to download a digital version of the comic book at www.arthritis.ca/childhood, or to make a donation. Your support for childhood and teen arthritis research, programs, and services, will change a child’s life. Personally, I wish this had been around when I was a teen after my diagnosis, to know that I was not alone in this battle.

This post is brought to you by AbbVie Canada but the opinions are our own.

Rebecca Eckler :

View Comments (1)

  • My beautiful perfectly healthy 3 year old daughter was diagnosed with JRA.
    The impact of that the diagnosis of that terrible chronic disease had on her and our family was enormous.
    At the time, the only assistance available for these pain suffering children, was drugs. The doctors, in an attempt to keep the children comfortable would prescribe layers of medications. The effects of these drugs on the growing little bodies was devastating.
    As a mother, I could not face the view of my daughter suffering the debilitation of the arthritis on her little body and add to that,the effects of the drugs on her growing organs. The JRA, I knew, would not kill her, but the treatments could, or at the very least, cause her healthy organs to suffer. Groping blindly, I focused on every other conceivable alternative method of treating this painful restricting disease. The most effective way, we discovered was through intensive exercise, tons of Physio therapies, aqua therapies , good nutrition, minimal stress and plenty of restful of sleep. There were however periods of times in her life when the only solution was to turn to the established regimen of drugs to give her some respite and relief from pain and stiffness. Today, my daughter is 33 years old, married with 3 children. Her pregnancies were very carefully monitored and resulted in healthy natural deliveries in spite of her 2 hip replacements. She has also undergone a shoulder replacement because of the stress of lifting, nursing and carrying her babies and the cumulative wear and tear to her very arthritis affected joint. It is heart warming to know that progress is being made to help today's children and their devastated parents and very affected families, to understand the nature of this disease and to bring some relief and comfort.