Are Biologics Safe for Children with Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis?

If you recently found out your child has juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA), you may wonder what’s the best treatment for them. 

While your child’s diagnosis can be overwhelming, remember that available therapies are highly effective in preventing long-term joint damage and achieving remission.

Watch the Video: Are Biologics Safe for Children with Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis?

How is JIA Treated?

Traditionally, the initial treatment of juvenile idiopathic arthritis involves using nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), intra-articular corticosteroids, and conventional non-biologic disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) like methotrexate.

Which medication your doctor prescribes depends on many factors, including disease severity, the number of joints affected, and the type of JIA your child has.

Unfortunately, many patients with severe forms of the disease often have an inadequate response to traditional medications. When a child doesn’t respond well to conventional drugs, their risk of joint damage and disability increases. To prevent this, your doctor will closely monitor treatment outcomes and make the necessary adjustments.

Doctors may prescribe biologic therapy to halt the disease progression when conventional medications fail.

What are Biologics?

Biologics are a powerful subset of drugs called disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs). These innovative medications may slow or prevent chronic inflammation related to JIA that can damage joints.

Conventional DMARDs use small molecules made from chemicals, while biologics use engineered large molecules derived from living organisms. While both types of drugs can help protect against inflammation, there are stark differences between them.

Conventional DMARDs, such as methotrexate, suppress the overall immune system, whereas biologics are more complex therapies capable of blocking specific parts of the immune system.

How Biologics Work in the Treatment of JIA

Unlike traditional therapies, biologics target specific cell signaling proteins known as cytokines, which aid the cell-to-cell communication that activates and regulates immune responses.

By targeting unique cytokines such as tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNFa), Interleukin, and cytotoxic T lymphocyte-associated protein, all of which play a critical role in the inflammatory process of JIA, biologics help control inflammatory response making remission more achievable than ever. 

Biologics have positively transformed the outlook and clinical outcomes for children with severe juvenile idiopathic arthritis.

Are Biologics Safe for Children?

As a concerned parent, you are likely to be apprehensive about starting a new therapy. Safety concerns and possible adverse side effects are valid and must be discussed with your doctor before beginning treatment.

Before starting biologic therapy, your doctor will prescribe a series of screening tests and discuss in detail the precautions, monitoring protocols, and potential side effects of treatment.

The most common side effects are allergic reactions and infections. However, other adverse effects and complications can arise, so it’s important to ask your doctor what to look out for and how to address any concerning symptoms.

A recent long-term study spanning more than seven years determined biologic therapy is a safe and effective treatment option for children with juvenile idiopathic arthritis. Researchers also determined that the risk of tuberculosis infection did not increase with the use of biologics with appropriate screenings and preventive treatment.

Biologics’ success in managing JIA paints a bright future for children living with the disease. 

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