July is Juvenile Arthritis Awareness Month. As we head into summer, it makes me sad to think about all the young kids who are unable to jump, run and skip as much as they want during these beautiful sunny days. This topic is of personal interest to me…
Many of you aren’t aware but I have rheumatoid arthritis and I’ve always questioned whether I had it even as a child. In my preteen years into my teen years, I remember experiencing joint pain in my knees and various joints that would come and go. When my mother brought me to my pediatrician, he blew me off and said I just had “growing pains” without even doing any lab work. Looking back now, it upsets me still that I’ll never know if he had done labs, could he have known I had rheumatoid arthritis then and perhaps treated me long before my symptoms really flared up in my mid-early 20s.
As a physician, I can attest to the fact that we are all overworked and frequently inundated with the stressors of running clinics or working for large institutions and adhering to their rules and regulations. But no matter how busy we are, I feel that we must still pay attention to early signs and signals and symptoms of our patients’ bodies and our own body. Even if the symptoms seem mild, it’s worth digging into or monitoring more closely…because diseases can start small and symptoms can be ignored if we’re not looking closely.
Too often, I see friends’ kids or patients’ kids with early possible symptoms and they are being told it’s ok but no labs or work up are done. I know numerous pediatricians who are amazing, and I know many family practitioners who are also incredibly skilled and caring and passionate about their patients and helping them. I’ve noticed that frequently it’s not about how good a doctor is…it’s that children are frequently overlooked unless it’s a typical childhood infection or issue. Children frequently present with symptoms that are borderline or seem mild, and kids are resilient, so they seem to still be relatively active and thriving; they also frequently are not the best historians in detailing symptoms…hence diseases are frequently missed in their early stages.
During this month of Juvenile Arthritis Awareness Month, I’d like for us to look at the children in our life and make sure we are giving them the notice they deserve. It’s not healthy to be overly and constantly scared or worried, that’s not what I mean.
What I mean is that if a child has joint pain or is starting to be more exhausted than usual or there’s occasional swollen joints or getting new symptoms that aren’t normal, don’t just chalk it up to the running around shenanigans they get into unless there is a known trauma event, check with your pediatrician and make sure they evaluate and hear you out for the symptom concerns. But also trust your doctor, especially if you have a good one, and maybe just monitor if it doesn’t look too concerning yet.
My key message isn’t for us all to get overwhelmed with fear and think every symptom is the beginning of a life-long disease or life-threatening disease state. Far from it.
What I’m saying is that trust your gut instinct about your child and also trust your child’s gut instinct about his or her own health. If something doesn’t feel right, ask your doctor to look into it and at the very least monitor it. It might be nothing but if it was something, you could be helping your child in preventing something chronic and/or ameliorating it. My mother’s gut instinct was right…a few years after my teen years, my rheumatoid arthritis blew up and knowing what I know now about autoimmune disease patterns, it probably was brewing for at least a few years before that.
Follow your instinct. This is why I listen to my patients when they say they feel something is off…most of the time, they’re right.
We, most of us, know our bodies and know our kids. That’s how I helped my friend’s son find out he had lyme disease early on and he was able to get antibiotic therapy from his pediatrician and now he’s running, skipping and hopping and having fun this summer…all because she knew her son and felt deep down something wasn’t right and sought help and persisted until he got help. I’d like to dedicate this article to all the parents out there fighting every day to make sure their kids are doing well.