There’s been an alarming increase in the number of children affected by arthritis in the UAE say doctors, a disease that’s traditionally only associated in older people.

“Few people realise that juvenile arthritis is an equally big concern to the arthritis suffered by adults,” says Dr Humeira Badsha, Consultant Rheumatologist and Board Member at Middle East Arthritis Foundation (MEAF).  “There are now more and more instances of Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis (JIA) in children as young as six months to 16 years in the UAE. At the same time, one out of every 10 adults suffer from some form of arthritis in the UAE.”

Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis or JIA is a chronic disease which causes inflammation in the synovium or the tissue lining the joints, in children aged 16 or younger, explains Dr Badsha. JIA is referred to as an autoimmune disease. This means that the immune system, which is supposed to protect the body, attacks the body instead. It is also known as an idiopathic disease, or one for which there is no exact cause. Studies indicate possible causes could be genetics, certain infections, and environmental triggers.

“There are no UAE specific statistics for arthritis but numbers from the Gulf region suggest that the prevalence is 20% of the population,” says Dr Badhsa. “In the UAE, studies have shown a delay to diagnosis of 1 year due to lack of awareness. Over the years, there have been more and more cases of JIA reported. This could be attributed to more awareness on the part of parents, who are now more likely than before to bring the child to a doctor when symptoms appear.”

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What are the symptoms of arthritis in children?

The symptoms for JIA vary widely. Some children may have no symptoms at all. At the same time, symptoms vary depending on the type of JIA. Symptoms may include:

  • Joint stiffness, especially in the morning, along with pain, swelling, and tenderness in the joints
  • Limping (younger children may appear unable to perform recently-learned motor skills)
  • Persistent fever, sometimes accompanied by a rash
  • Weight loss, fatigue and irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Eye redness, eye pain and blurred vision

How to Treat and prevent Juvenile arthritis

Currently, there is no specific cure for juvenile arthritis and, because doctors aren’t sure what causes it, there is no proven way to prevent it. However, there are many courses of treatments available today, and all medical experts unanimously agree that exercise is a vital part of combating JIA. In general, studies indicate that kids with JIA have less muscle strength and muscle endurance compared to their peers who do not have this condition. However, it has also been proven that these conditions can be improved with exercise.

Ahead of the Middle East Arthritis Foundation’s (MEAF) signature 2019 Walk for Arthritis event to unite patients of this chronic disease, Dr Humeira Badsha, Consultant Rheumatologist and

Board Member of MEAF explains how exercise and walking can help in the fight against juvenile arthritis:

Improved Physical Function

Research consistently shows that exercise greatly improves physical function and balance, as well as the child’s confidence. Additionally, exercise positively impacts low bone mineral density (BMD), which is a common secondary condition for patients of JIA. Both low-impact forms of exercise such as swimming and biking, as well as weight-bearing activities like walking, skipping and step aerobics help boost bone density.

Mental Wellness

Most children find exercise a chore. With the pain and fatigue that accompanies JIA, just the thought of exercising is an unpleasant one. One of the best ways to help children overcome this dislike of exercise is by ensuring the while family is involved. Exercising alone can make them feel like the odd one out, however exercising as a family can actually make it a cherished part of the family’s routine and can improve the child’s mental well-being.

Maintaining a healthy weight

Because movement can be painful, it is easy for children with JIA to turn to a sedentary life. However, this can cause other issues, one of them being excess weight. Excess weight in turn, results in more pressure on joints, thereby exacerbating the child’s arthritic condition. More worryingly, fat itself is an active tissue that creates and releases pro-inflammatory chemicals. Along with the right nutrition, exercise plays a critical role in maintaining a healthy weight. Exercise aids in weight loss, can help manage and lessen the pain and symptoms of JIA.

Improved quality of sleep

It is impossible to function effectively without a good night’s sleep. For children, the pain of JIA can interfere with their sleep, leaving them fatigued, unable to concentrate and irritable during the day. Regular daily exercise plays an important role in improving a child's sense of well-being, which may increase energy levels and promote better sleep. During exercise, the body produces chemicals called endorphins which reduce pain, joint stiffness, and anxiety, all of which improve sleep quality.

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The Middle East Arthritis Foundation (MEAF) will organise its ‘2019 Walk for Arthritis’ at Dubai Creek Park on February 22nd. This is the MEAF’s nationwide signature event that unites patients, carers, specialists and the general public across the country to raise awareness and find solutions for this debilitating disease. This year, the UAE community will walk 3.5km beginning 8 am at Gate No. 2.

Across the globe, millions of people suffer with arthritis, leaving them struggling to do routine tasks. It affects most families at some point in their lives, and events such as these are hosted by MEAF in order to help patients with arthritis as well as their families improve quality of life.

Join the MEAF team on 22nd February and make a difference to people living with arthritis. Register online today and start your journey to awareness. For help or more information about ‘Walk For Arthritis’, contact +971 505343182 or send email on Follow the latest updates on

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