Chronic Inflammation and What it Means in a Child


“Chronic inflammation can be manifest in many ways,” says Dr. Boon. “Signs parents might see in their child include fatigue, fever, rash, joint pain or swelling, sores in their mouth, chest pains and abdominal pain. Start with your pediatrician. Make sure infection is not the cause. The primary care doctor can run some lab tests and refer you to a specialist as necessary. These symptoms are not specific, but can be early signs of chronic inflammation, including chronic forms of juvenile arthritis, lupus, inflammation of the skin and muscles, or other forms of vasculitis (inflammation that affects the blood vessels). There are also forms of inflammation that occur after a child has an infection, which may not be chronic or lifelong.”


To help with pain and swelling, children can take medications like ibuprofen or naprosyn, says Dr. Boon. Children with only a few joints affected but with persistent joint swelling may have a steroid injected to the joint, possibly as a one-time treatment because it’s long lasting, it may be the only treatment that is needed. Children with many joints affected, including the small joints of the hand, are often treated with systemic medications taken orally or injected just under the skin; the injections can be once a week to every two weeks, says Dr. Boon. “We also help children deal with their pain by using heat and cold packs and occupational and
physical therapy.”


If left untreated, chronic inflammation in children can cause fatigue, anemia and muscle aches, among other health problems. Children might feel achy and feel like they have the flu all the time. It can also affect a child’s growth rate. “If growth is stunted, the child may have to take growth hormone supplements to help them grow,” says Dr. Boon.


  • Number of people in the U.S. with some form of arthritis or chronic joint pain: Almost 70 million
  • Annual cost to the U.S. Economy for arthritis and related conditions, including juvenile arthritis: Almost $128 billion
  • Prevalence of children in Orange County with pediatric arthritis: 5-10 in 10,000

Five Myths of Arthritis

Picture a person with arthritis. Do you see someone elderly with gray hair, glasses and knitting in tow?

Think again: Arthritis is not just a grandmother’s disease. In fact, one in 10 of every 10,000 children will be diagnosed with Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis every year in the United States, and an estimated 70,000 children have the condition nationwide.

Teens outside school with notebooks and backpacks

Living with Juvenile Arthritis

Teen boy with camera taking picture of his camping friends

While it can’t be cured, juvenile arthritis can be well managed with long-term medications and therapy, and affected children can live normal lives, a CHOC rheumatologist says.

“There are such good medications available and there are some new biologic medications that are targeted and effective for treating most forms of arthritis in children,” says Dr. Sheryl J. Boon, division chief of rheumatology at CHOC. “The outlook now for kids with arthritis is much better than it was 20 years ago.”

Knowledge is the best medicine. Learn more about your child's health in these features from the experts at CHOC.

Growing Pains in Kids
Growing pains are real because many children experience musculoskeletal pain, but the most common cause for this type of pain are ligaments that are loose.

Kids and Surgery
To prepare your child for surgery parents should understand and work through their concerns, because if the parents are scared, the child will be scared.

Kids and Healthy Eating Habits
Offer children a variety of foods so they can try things and develop healthy eating habits: fresh fruit and vegetables are best and limit sweetened foods.

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