Juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA) is a term used to describe a group of disorders in children that includes arthritis. They are long-term (chronic) diseases that cause joint pain and swelling. The names describing this group of conditions has changed over the past several decades as more is learned about the condition.
The cause of 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.
The International League of Associations for Rheumatology (ILAR) has proposed the following way of grouping this type of childhood arthritis:
Symptoms of JIA may include:
JIA can also cause eye problems called uveitis, iridocyclitis, or iritis. There may be no symptoms. When eye symptoms occur, they can include:
The physical exam may show swollen, warm, and tender joints that hurt to move. The child may have a rash. Other signs include:
Blood tests may include:
Any or all of these blood tests may be normal in children with JIA.
The health care provider may place a small needle into a swollen joint to remove fluid. This can help to find the cause of the arthritis. It can also help relieve pain. The provider may inject steroids into the joint to help reduce swelling.
Other tests that may be done include:
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. Because of their toxicity, long-term use of these medicines should be avoided in children.
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:
Children with systemic JIA will likely need biologic inhibitors of IL-1 or IL-6 such as anakinra or tocilizumab.
Children with JIA need to stay active.
Exercise will help keep their muscles and joints strong and mobile.
Children who have sadness or anger about their arthritis may need extra support.
Some children with JIA may need surgery, including joint replacement.
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 long-term (chronic) pain, disability, and problems at school. Some children may continue to have arthritis as adults.
Complications may include:
Call your provider if:
There is no known prevention for JIA.
Reviewed By: Gordon A. Starkebaum, MD, MACR, ABIM Board Certified in Rheumatology, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.