Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis

Juvenile idiopathic arthritis is a term used to describe a group of disorders in children that includes arthritis. They are chronic (long-term) diseases that cause joint pain and swelling.

There is no known prevention for JIA.

The cause of juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA) is not known. It is thought to be an autoimmune illness. This means the body attacks and destroys healthy body tissue by mistake.

JIA most often develops before age 16. Symptoms may start as early as 6 months old.

There are several types of JIA:
  • Systemic (bodywide) JIA involves joint swelling or pain, fevers, and rash. It is the least common type.
  • Polyarticular JIA involves many joints. This form of JIA may turn into rheumatoid arthritis. It may involve five or more large and small joints of the legs and arms, as well as the jaw and neck.
  • Pauciarticular JIA involves 4 or less joints, most often the wrists, or knees. It also affects the eyes.
  • Spondyloarthritis of children resembles the disorder in adults and often involves the sacroiliac joint.
Symptoms of JIA may include:
  • Swollen, red, or warm joint
  • Limping or problems using a limb
  • Sudden high fever
  • Rash (on trunk and extremities) that comes and goes with fever
  • Stiffness, pain, and limited movement of a joint
  • Low back pain that does not go away
  • Bodywide symptoms such as pale skin, swollen lymph gland, and a sick appearance

JIA can also cause eye problems called uveitis, iridocyclitis, or iritis. There may be no symptoms.

When eye symptoms occur, they can include:
  • Red eyes
  • Eye pain, which may get worse when looking at light (photophobia)
  • Vision changes

Children with only a few affected joints may have no symptoms for a long period.

In many children, the disease will become inactive and cause very little joint damage.

The severity of the disease depends on the number of affected joints. It is less likely that symptoms will go away in these cases. These children more often have chronic (long-term) pain, disability, and problems at school.

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen or naproxen may be enough to control symptoms when only a small number of joints are involved.

Corticosteroids may be used for more severe flare-ups to help control symptoms.

Children who have arthritis in many joints, or who have fever, rash, and swollen glands may need other medicines. These are called disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs). They can help reduce swelling in the joints or body.

DMARDs include:
  • Methotrexate
  • Biologic drugs, such as etanercept, infliximab, and related drugs

Children with JIA need to stay active.

Exercise will help keep their muscles and joints strong and mobile.
  • Walking, bicycling, and swimming may be good activities.
  • Children should learn to warm up before exercising.
  • Talk to the doctor or physical therapist about exercises to do when your child is having pain.

Children who have sadness or anger about their arthritis may need extra support.

Some children with JIA may need surgery, including joint replacement.