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Growing up with arthritis

Growing up brings many new issues for young people. Having arthritis can make these issues more challenging or complicated, and they may need your support through different experiences.

Socialising

Your child may find it difficult to tell their friends, partners or employers about their arthritis because they’re worried about bullying, negative reactions or being teased.

Practicing a simple phrase might help your child if they want to tell people about their condition or if they get asked questions. They could try: 'I have arthritis, which can make my joints hurt. Arthritis isn't just a condition that affects older people.'

If your child does have problems with teasing or bullying, talking about this can be a difficult but very important step. Many children are nervous to discuss this, even with parents/carers. They often worry that the situation will be worse if those involved find out that they've told someone.

Listen calmly to your child, praising them for raising the issue.

You can help by discussing how to bring up the subject with your child's teachers if there are problems and how to respond to unkind comments or other actions.

Let your child know that school staff can help and make sure they know who to go to if they ever experience bullying. You should discuss the concerns with your child’s teachers immediately. All schools have a policy on how to handle bullying.

Smoking, alcohol and illegal drugs

Along with attending regular healthcare appointments, taking prescribed medication and reporting any complications to doctors or nurses, having a healthy lifestyle is one of the most important things young people with arthritis can do.

Regular exercise and eating a healthy, balanced, nutritious and low-fat diet will greatly help a young person who has arthritis. Find out more about looking after your child's physical health.

Most young people will first come across cigarettes, alcohol and illegal drugs as teenagers. Consuming these substances are some of the worst things anyone can do to their bodies, in terms of staying fit and healthy.

Avoiding them altogether is difficult, especially if your child's friends are involved. There are, however, reasons why it's even more important for a young person with arthritis to avoid cigarettes, too much alcohol and illegal drugs, as these young people may well need to make more of an effort than their peers to look after themselves.

Drinking too much alcohol while taking some medication, such as methotrexate, can cause liver damage.

Young people with arthritis need to be aware of how their condition or medication can be affected by these things. It’s best to be honest, open and patient about the risks without laying down the law.

If you or your child have any questions or concerns about illegal drugs or alcohol, you can find advice at your child's school, your GP surgery or at www.talktofrank.com

It would be sensible to let your rheumatology department know if you have any concerns.

Sex

Sex is another issue that young people face as they're growing. They may be worried about physically being able to have sex or the effects of medication.

It makes good sense to talk to your child about safe sex and discuss any worries they may have.

As well as preventing pregnancy and protecting against sexually transmitted infections (STIs), contraception is important for girls taking methotrexate and/or biological therapies.

Getting pregnant while taking methotrexate, or within three months after taking it, can cause harm to an unborn baby. If your daughter has unprotected sex they should see their nurse or doctor urgently. Emergency contraception is effective for 72 hours after unprotected sex.

It was previously thought that methotrexate may affect sperm, which could affect any fertilised egg, but this hasn't been shown to be a problem in research studies.

Your hospital team and GP will listen to any concerns relating to sexual health and give helpful, practical advice. Young people usually find it easier to ask questions if they see the healthcare professional on their own. You can also point them to our sex and arthritis information.

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For more information, go to www.arthritisresearchuk.org.
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