Antibiotics And Arthritis: Use Of Antibiotics In Childhood Increases Risk Of Juvenile Arthritis

First Posted: Jul 20, 2015 07:56 PM EDT

New findings published in the journal Pediatrics reveal that children prescribed antibiotics are twice as likely to develop juvenile arthritis as those who do not take the drugs.

"Our research suggests another possible reason to avoid antibiotic overuse for infections that would otherwise get better on their own," said lead author Daniel Horton, a postdoctoral research fellow in the Department of Pediatrics at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Brunswick, NJ, in a news release

Though arthritis is typically linked to older adults, close to 294,000 American children under the age of 18 are also estimated to be affected by arthritis and/or rheumatic conditions.

Furthermore, previous studies have also shown that close to a quarter of antibiotic treatments prescribed to children and about half of those prescribed for acute respiratory infections are unnecessary.

For the study, researchers analyzed medical data on 450,000 children collected by The Health Improvement Network, comparing 152 children newly diagnosed with juvenile arthritis with age- and gender-matched children who do not have the condition.

Findings revealed that any treatment that uses antibiotics doubles the chances of juvenile arthritis. Furthermore, repeated use of antibiotic treatments increases the risk factors significantly with each course of treatment, with the highest chances of developing arthritis within one year of taking antibiotics.

While patients with juvenile arthritis are more susceptible to infection than others due to a weakened immune system, the study's findings may also be explained by an abnormal immune system that might make them more susceptible to serious infection before they are diagnosed with arthritis.

"So an alternative explanation to our findings is that this abnormal immune system makes children more susceptible to serious infection even before they are diagnosed with arthritis," Horton said. "Under this hypothesis, antibiotics would be a marker for abnormal immunity rather than a direct cause of arthritis. A majority of children get antibiotics, but only about 1 in 1,000 get arthritis. So even if antibiotics do contribute to the development of arthritis, it's clearly not the only factor."

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