Pediatric rheumatology is a medical specialty dedicated to the treatment of rheumatic diseases in children. Rheumatic diseases include connective tissue disorders and autoimmune conditions. Connective tissue disorders (such as juvenile arthritis) affect the joints, ligaments, bones, and muscles. Autoimmune conditions damage the immune system and can affect the eyes, heart, and other organs. Rheumatic diseases frequently cause children to experience chronic and acute inflammation, fatigue, joint pain, and swelling. Pediatric rheumatologists are physicians who complete training in rheumatology and pediatrics and may treat the following conditions:
Pediatric rheumatologists can diagnose patients by radiological imaging, such as X-ray, joint ultrasound, and MRI scans. These scans may detect certain joint conditions, inflammation, or fluid buildup. Additionally, for certain patients, pediatric rheumatologists may perform an arthroscopy, which uses a small inserted camera to reveal the interior of a joint. Blood, urine, and biopsy (tissue) samples can also reveal how autoimmune disorders impact a patient's body. Joint aspiration uses a thin needle to obtain fluid from the joint area. This fluid can be studied for signs of rheumatic conditions. However, some autoimmune disorders such as lupus may be difficult to definitively diagnose and may require rheumatologists to consider a patient's symptoms, test results, and physical health to even determine the overall likelihood of the patient having the condition.
While most rheumatic diseases have no cure, pediatric rheumatologists perform and prescribe treatments to help patients manage their symptoms. Short-term treatments such as anti-inflammatory oral medications, joint immobilization (splints or braces), massages, and heat and cold exposure can prove helpful in easing symptoms. Other patients may need joint surgery, assistive devices (such as crutches), oral or intravenous (IV) corticosteroid medications, and disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs). Physical therapy can relieve joint, tendon, and muscle pain. Lifestyle changes such as nutritional plans and exercise may also improve children's rheumatic diseases.
Pediatric rheumatologists can collaborate with pediatric orthopedists, ophthalmologists, nephrologists, pediatric physical therapists, rehabilitation specialists, nutritionists, and other care professionals.