An estimated 4,600 Australian children under the age of 16 have juvenile arthritis – a highly disabling and care demanding condition, according to a new report released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).
The report, Juvenile arthritis in Australia, brings together the latest data on the disease to highlight the impact of arthritis in children.
Report author Dr Naila Rahman said 'juvenile arthritis is not just a 'mini' version of adult arthritis and is considerably different from the adult form of the disease.'
Because of its early onset, juvenile arthritis affects the growth and development of the child, which means there is usually a greater and long-term need for health care services.
'The process of the disease itself and the medication regime required to control it can also alter children's physical appearance – in particular underdeveloped jaw bones, shorted fingers, forearms, toes or feet,' Dr Rahman said.
Dr Kuldeep Bhatia, Head of the AIHW's National Centre for Monitoring Arthritis and Musculoskeletal Conditions, said an estimated 1,600 Australian children are disabled as a result of their arthritis – primarily because of chronic or recurrent pain and severe activity limitation.
'Almost 70 per cent of them experience restricted physical activity or inability to do physical work,' he said.
In addition, children with arthritis are more likely to have days away from school (33 per cent) and days of reduced activity (16 per cent) compared to other children (18 per cent and 11 per cent, respectively).
'Many children with juvenile arthritis go into remission. However, between 10 to 20 per cent enter adulthood with active disease. In some cases the disease recurs in adulthood,' she said.
According to the report, almost 22,000 Australian adults were diagnosed with arthritis in childhood, and the physical impairments experienced by these adults are more pronounced than in those who were diagnosed as adults.
(Source: Australian Institute of Health and Welfare : Juvenile arthritis in Australia, October 2008)