Teenagers and Arthritis

Teenagers and Arthritis

Being a teenager can be challenging enough without adding a chronic condition to the mix. Teenagers with JIA will need support and guidance to develop the skills to help them have the confidence to deal with the challenges of living with their condition while ‘setting their sails’ for adult life.

As a parent, this includes supporting their increasing involvement in their own care planning, goal setting and decision-making, ensuring that they understand their condition and any implications associated with the decisions they make about their arthritis, its treatment and management.

The key message for parents of teenagers with arthritis to reinforce is that your child is not defined by their JIA but by who they are and what they can do and be.

As your teenager transitions into young adulthood, they will need information to support the next stages of their journey. See Living with arthritis – a guide for young adults which provides a practical guide to treatments, services and lifestyle choices.

Staying Connected

Having friends, an active social life and fulfilling relationships is an important part of life. However, starting and maintaining these connections can be challenging, especially as a young adult with a chronic (long-term) illness such as arthritis. If you live with pain, fatigue, stress and anxiety about the future, it can make it difficult to want to socialise and have the confidence and energy to start and sustain intimate relationships – but it is possible. And, in fact, research has shown that having secure, good-quality relationships can help you cope with the everyday challenges of arthritis.

If you are experiencing feelings such as loneliness, isolation, stress, depression or anxiety, it is important to seek help, so talk to your GP or a psychologist.

Staying Active

Physical activity is important for everybody and we all should be regularly exercising. Research has shown that regular exercise is one of the most effective treatments for arthritis. It can strengthen the muscles around your affected joints, improve mobility and flexibility as well as help reduce pain and fatigue.

The key is to find out which exercises are best for you. Your GP or rheumatologist will also be able to help you with this. They may even suggest seeing a physiotherapist, or an appropriately experienced personal trainer to help design an exercise program tailored to your specific needs

Healthy eating

The best diet for people living with arthritis is a healthy, balanced diet, one that helps maintain your general health and wellbeing. No diet has been shown to cure arthritis, but the good news is researchers have identified certain foods that can help control inflammation. Many of them are found in the so-called Mediterranean diet, which is rich in fish, vegetables and olive oil. 

Studies have shown that eating foods rich in omega-3, including oily fish such as sardines and salmon, ground linseeds and walnuts, can help reduce inflammation. Maintaining a healthy weight is also important as extra bodyweight increases the stresses on joints, especially the hips and knees.

Remember, eating well is one way you can help manage your arthritis, but a healthy diet is not a replacement for taking medicines to manage your arthritis. For more information see Healthy eating and arthritis.

Education and Training

Trying to fit in study or training while managing your arthritis and the rest of your life may be a daunting prospect, but with the right support and approach you can successfully ‘hit the books’.

Depending on what you choose to study, there may be some options that make it easier for you to manage.

  • Workload. If you find fatigue or tiredness a problem, you could consider studying part-time.
  • Mode of study. Many universities and educational organisations offer online courses and other options which mean you don’t always have to go to the campus.  These options many be good if you find it easier to study from home.
  • On-campus accommodation.  If you are facing long days of classes and/or a lengthy commute, you may want to consider the option of living on campus.

Employment

When you have arthritis, work can sometimes feel a lot like hard work especially if your physical symptoms are affecting your ability to get your job done. You might be finding it challenging to stay in your current job, or are worried about finding new work because of your condition. The good news is that treatments for arthritis have significantly improved and, nowadays, many more people with arthritis can keep working despite their condition. In fact, more than 50% of people with rheumatoid arthritis continue to work for twenty years after their diagnosis. Staying in the workforce may require anything from a little support to a complete change of roles, but there are many services available to help you.

If your condition is making it difficult for you to perform your usual work, or find new work, it is important to understand that arthritis is a recognised disability. This means it attracts certain rights outlined in the Disability Discrimination Act and you may be eligible for additional support to help you stay in the workforce.

 

Travel

You may have always dreamed of hitting the open road…but then you discovered you have arthritis. There is no need to throw the suitcase away just yet; with careful planning you can still have the trip of a lifetime. You will need to consider things like medicines, travel insurance, planning ahead to be able to manage care/train/plane travel and how to pace yourself.

Starting a family for a young adult with Arthritis

Starting a family is a big step for any couple; perhaps even more so if you have arthritis. You may be worried about whether you can cope with children, how pregnancy might affect your arthritis, and if your children will also develop arthritis. If you are thinking about having a baby, it is important to talk to your doctor before trying to conceive, so you understand what steps you need to take to prepare for pregnancy and parenthood.

It is important for both partners to be fully aware of the risks and challenges associated with pregnancy. Coping with a newborn baby, a toddler or a child requires love, time and commitment from both partners, especially when one has arthritis.

Information for young people with rheumatology conditions

Download a PDF of the information for young people with rheumatology conditions

Having a rheumatology condition has some specific challenges, especially if you are taking medicines that affect your immune system. As you get older, there are some adult issues it is important to be aware of. Here is some information about potential risks and how to make the best decisions for your health.

What does being immunosuppressed mean?
Rheumatology conditions occur when parts of the immune system are overactive. The medications that are used help to ‘calm down’ and suppress the immune system. Although this helps to treat your condition, it makes you more vulnerable to infections. Your body also has to fight harder if you do develop an infection.

Smoking
The smoking of tobacco is harmful to your health and introduces poisons to your body. Once you start, it can be addictive and difficult to quit. It affects your immune system, makes your medicines less effective and makes your condition more difficult to control. Smokers are more likely to develop infections, especially chest infections. If you are immunosuppressed this risk is even higher as your body is less able to fight infections. Let your team know if you’d like to quit smoking.

Sexually transmitted infection
Unprotected sex increases the risk of getting a sexually transmitted infection (STI). If you are immunosuppressed the risks are higher. Practicing safe sex by using a condom reduces these risks.

Pregnancy
Women with rheumatology conditions can have successful pregnancies and healthy babies. This is safer if your condition is well controlled when you fall pregnant and during your pregnancy. If you decide to become pregnant, let your rheumatologist know in advance. They may want to adjust your medication, which sometimes needs to be done slowly.

Some medicines in rheumatology can harm an unborn child—for this reason it is important to talk to your rheumatologist and check if you are on any of these. Unplanned pregnancy should be avoided and using another contraceptive (as well as condoms) will provide extra protection. When deciding which contraceptive to use, make sure you tell your doctor/family planner about your condition and medications as this may affect which option is best for you.

Alcohol
Consuming alcohol is toxic and irritates the liver and stomach, especially in large amounts. This can affect the immune system. When you drink alcohol, especially large amounts all at once, it might affect how well your condition is controlled. Many medications used in rheumatology can also affect the liver. If you drink while on these medications, especially in large amounts, it can be dangerous.

Tattoos and Piercings
Tattoos and piercings are a potential infection risk. If you do decide to get a tattoo or piercing, make sure that you choose to go somewhere with a high standard of hygiene precautions. Don’t be afraid to ask if you are unsure. While the tattoo or piercing is new, make sure you keep the skin clean and see your GP if there is any sign of infection.

Medicines and Drugs
Always check with your doctor before starting any new medicine or treatment, as different medicines can affect each other. Make sure they know which medicines you are currently taking so they can check whether it is safe to prescribe. It is extremely unsafe to mix illegal drugs with prescription medicines and and/or alcohol.

To find out more…
Generally, it is a good idea to talk to someone you trust (e.g., your parents, GP, school nurse or counsellor) when making decisions about these issues. You can also talk to your rheumatology team. Remember that any information you share with a health professional will be kept confidential. The agencies listed below also have good information:

Resources for young people