Caring for a child with a rheumatic disease

Q. What are rheumatic diseases?

Meet Dr. Onel

Onel,Karen

Karen B. Onel, MD

Associate Professor of Pediatrics

Section Chief, Pediatric Rheumatology

Dr. Onel: Rheumatic diseases are inflammatory conditions that affect a person’s joints and/or connective tissue. They are autoimmune disorders, which means they occur when the body’s defense system mistakenly attacks its own cells.

Q. What are some signs and symptoms of rheumatic diseases?

Dr. Onel: Signs may include unexplained rash, fever, anemia, weakness, weight loss, fatigue and/or muscle pain. If your child displays any of these symptoms for an extended period of time, discuss them with your child’s pediatrician.

Q. What are the most common rheumatic diseases in children?

Dr. Onel: We frequently see patients with juvenile idiopathic arthritis and reactive arthritis. These rheumatic diseases cause inflammation and swelling in the joints. Rheumatologists also care for patients with lupus, vasculitis, uveitis, dermatomyositis, scleroderma, sarcoidosis, and other inflammatory autoimmune conditions.

Q. How are rheumatic illnesses diagnosed?

Dr. Onel: Receiving a diagnosis can be a long and frustrating process for patients. Often times, families see a rheumatologist after not finding answers elsewhere. Thanks to advanced training, rheumatologists are highly skilled in identifying warning signs of various conditions. To diagnose or rule out the presence of rheumatic disease, we take a comprehensive medical history and perform a physical exam.

Q. At what age are these conditions typically diagnosed?

Dr. Onel: Rheumatic diseases can affect people of all ages. Pediatric rheumatologists see newborns, infants, children and teenagers up to 18 years of age. Once a young adult is ready to transition to an adult practitioner, we help him/her find a physician for continuing care.

Q. What treatments are available?

Dr. Onel: Many rheumatic diseases are chronic conditions. Although there is no cure, symptoms can be managed with proper medication. Your child’s rheumatologist will recommend the best therapy for your child and monitor the effectiveness over time.  A rheumatologist also can help coordinate care for children and adolescents affected by multiple diseases or disorders.

Q. What makes the rheumatology program at Comer Children’s unique?

Dr. Onel: We take a family-oriented approach to care, focusing on the needs of our patients while encouraging input from family members and caregivers. Our goal is to get children on the road to recovery as quickly as possible so they can enjoy being kids again.

Q. Anything else?

Dr. Onel: When patients and families come to Comer Children’s, they have access to the latest technology and leading clinical trials as well as experts in all pediatric specialties.

Q. How is Comer Children’s advancing patient care in rheumatology?

Dr. Onel: Comer Children’s plays a leading role in the Childhood Arthritis and Rheumatology Research Alliance (CARRA). A group of more than 400 pediatric rheumatologists and researchers from across the country, CARRA focuses on developing new and better treatments for juvenile arthritis and other rheumatic diseases.

If your child has a rheumatic disease, or you think that he/she should be tested, please call UCM Connect at 1-888-824-0200 to schedule an appointment. To learn more, visit uchicagokidshospital.org.

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