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Doctor Shortage Adds to Pain of Juvenile Arthritis
Date:12/23/2010

By Dennis Thompson
HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, Dec. 23 (HealthDay News) -- Most people think of arthritis as a disease of old age, with people's joints growing creaky and painful later in life.

But arthritis also affects hundreds of thousands of kids in the United States. Children and teens with juvenile arthritis face a lifetime of aching joints and impaired mobility if the disease isn't caught in time.

"There are about 300,000 kids that are affected by juvenile arthritis," said Dr. Patience White, vice president of public health for the Arthritis Foundation and a professor of pediatrics and medicine at George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences. "That means it's more common than kids with type 1 diabetes."

Though the disease itself isn't rare, doctors specially trained to treat juvenile arthritis can be hard to find.

Fewer than 200 certified pediatric rheumatologists currently practice in the United States, making it one of the smallest pediatric subspecialties, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Thirteen states don't have a single pediatric rheumatologist within their borders, including heavily populated states such as Arizona, South Carolina and Alabama.

"There are many families who have to travel many miles -- sometimes to another state -- to see a pediatric rheumatologist," White said.

Three types of juvenile arthritis have been identified, according to the Arthritis Foundation and the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons:

  • Pauciarticular juvenile arthritis typically affects four or fewer joints. About half of the children with juvenile arthritis have this type. It usually affects the large joints, including the knees, ankles or wrists, and often strikes a joint on one side of the body while leaving the corresponding joint alone.
  • Polyarticular juvenile arthritis affects five or more joints. About 3
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