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Pediatric rheumatologist treating patient with JIA

Juvenile Arthritis and the Importance of Working with a Pediatric Rheumatologist

July 13, 2023 | Rheumatic Disease


Juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA) is a chronic autoimmune disease that results in swelling, limitation in motion, warmth, and redness of the joints in children 16 years of age or younger. Collectively, these symptoms are known as arthritis. According to the American College of Rheumatology, there are approximately 300,000 children in the United States living with some form of juvenile arthritis.

For many parents, caring for a child with JIA can be challenging, confusing, and overwhelming all at once.

Enter your trusted pediatric rheumatologist.

There are approximately 350 pediatric rheumatologists in practice in the United States; each of whom has received training in the fields of both pediatrics and rheumatology. Pediatric rheumatologists serve as your partner in caring for a child with JIA.

However, with over 5,000 adult rheumatologists in practice across the country, a parent may justifiably wonder why having a pediatric rheumatologist is so important. Why not have an adult rheumatologist, who easily outnumber pediatric rheumatologists 14 to 1, care for your child with JIA? It’s certainly a valid question. Yet, here are 4 reasons why it’s important to work with a pediatric rheumatologist:

1. Pediatric rheumatologists are pediatricians first!

Universally, the first lesson a pediatrician receives during their training is “children are not little adults.” It seems simple at face value, but there’s so much more to caring for a child than embracing this mantra. For this reason, one of the most important reasons for working with a pediatric rheumatologist is pediatric rheumatologists are pediatricians first! This means they are particularly skilled and adept at caring for pediatric patients (i.e., children ages 0–18 years old). Pediatricians are not only experienced in how to interact with children, but they are also trained to quell the fears and address the concerns of the child’s parent; all while providing care from the perspective of a rheumatologist. You could almost say having a pediatric rheumatologist is akin to the best 2 for 1 deal!

2. Pediatric rheumatologists are comfortable dosing medications by weight.

In pediatrics, medications are dosed by weight due to the high metabolisms of growing children. Medications prescribed for systemic rheumatologic illnesses like JIA are no exception to the rule. Having a pediatric rheumatologist care for your child with JIA ensures their medications and dosages are appropriate for their age and weight.

3. There's strength in numbers.

While the number of pediatric rheumatologists in the United States may be few (in comparison to adult rheumatologists), collectively, pediatric rheumatologists have taken care of hundreds of thousands of children with JIA. This means your child won’t be one of a handful of JIA patients your doctor has seen. Instead, they will be one of the hundreds to thousands! Now before you become concerned this implies your little darling isn’t special, let me assure you quite the contrary. Having a doctor who sees JIA on a regular basis, and in large quantities, means your rheumatologist will not only be familiar with JIA, but it’s also extremely likely that they are not only comfortable treating the condition but also effective at treating the disease. This results in a better prognosis and outcome for the child with JIA.

4. Pediatric rheumatologists are aware of numerous resources.

Available resources such as Individualized Education Plans (IEP), 504 Plans, peer groups, and arthritis camps are usually just an ask away. Let’s face it. No one likes to see a child suffer, be in pain, or feel left out or different from the group. To this end, pediatric rheumatologists are privy to and knowledgeable about a myriad of resources that aid in the care of a child with JIA. IEPs and 504 plans advocate for reasonable and appropriate accommodations and education plans in the learning environment while programs like arthritis camps, the Arthritis Foundation, and JIA peer groups assist your child in finding community and like-mindedness with other children living with JIA.

Having a pediatric rheumatologist care for your child with JIA is extremely important. Pediatric rheumatologists are specialists committed to caring for children with JIA. If your child has JIA or a related systemic rheumatologic disease, check out the American College of Rheumatology website to find a list of pediatric rheumatologists in your area.

Nina T. Washington, MD, MPH

About the Author

Nina T. Washington, MD, MPH

Nina T. Washington, MD, MPH, is a board-certified pediatric rheumatologist, writer, editor, and world traveler. She is the founder and CEO of More Than a Doctor, LLC, where she performs medical consulting and freelance writing services. She currently practices as a locums tenens physician at the University of New Mexico Hospital in Albuquerque, NM.

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