Overview

Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, also known as juvenile idiopathic arthritis, is the most common type of arthritis in children under the age of 17. Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis causes persistent joint pain, swelling and stiffness. Some children may experience symptoms for only a few months, while others have symptoms for the rest of their lives.

Some types of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis can cause serious complications, such as growth problems and eye inflammation. Treatment of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis focuses on controlling pain, improving function and preventing joint damage.

Symptoms

The most common signs and symptoms of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis are:

  • Pain. While your child might not complain of joint pain, you may notice that he or she limps — especially first thing in the morning or after a nap.
  • Swelling. Joint swelling is common but is often first noticed in larger joints like the knee.
  • Stiffness. You might notice that your child appears clumsier than usual, particularly in the morning or after naps.

Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis can affect one joint or many. In some cases, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis affects the entire body — causing swollen lymph nodes, rashes and fever.

Like other forms of arthritis, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis is characterized by times when symptoms flare up and times when symptoms disappear.

When to see a doctor

Take your child to the doctor if he or she has joint pain, swelling or stiffness for more than a week — especially if he or she also has a fever.

Causes

Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis occurs when the body's immune system attacks its own cells and tissues. It's unknown why this happens, but both heredity and environment seem to play a role. Certain gene mutations may make a person more susceptible to environmental factors — such as viruses — that may trigger the disease.

Risk factors

Some forms of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis are more common in girls.

Complications

Several serious complications can result from juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. But keeping a careful watch on your child's condition and seeking appropriate medical attention can greatly reduce the risk of these complications:

  • Eye problems. Some forms of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis can cause eye inflammation (uveitis). If this condition is left untreated, it may result in cataracts, glaucoma and even blindness.

    Eye inflammation frequently occurs without symptoms, so it's important for children with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis to be examined regularly by an ophthalmologist.

  • Growth problems. Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis can interfere with your child's growth and bone development. Some medications used to treat juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, mainly corticosteroids, also can inhibit growth.
Oct. 17, 2014
References
  1. Marzan KAB, et al. Early juvenile idiopathic arthritis. Rheumatic Disease Clinics of North America. 2012;38:355.
  2. Questions and answers about juvenile arthritis. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. http://www.niams.nih.gov/Health_Info/Juv_Arthritis/. Accessed Sept. 3, 2014.
  3. Juvenile arthritis. Arthritis Foundation. http://www.arthritis.org/conditions-treatments/disease-center/juvenile--arthritis/. Accessed Sept. 2, 2014.
  4. Arthritis in children. American College of Rheumatology. http://www.rheumatology.org/practice/clinical/patients/diseases_and_conditions/juvenilearthritis.asp. Accessed Sept. 2, 2014.
  5. Sullivan KE. Inflammation in juvenile idiopathic arthritis. Pediatric Clinics of North America. 2005;52:335.
  6. Ferri FF. Ferri's Clinical Advisor 2015: 5 Books in 1. Philadelphia, Pa.: Mosby Elsevier; 2015. https://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed Sept. 3, 2014.
  7. Firestein GS, et al. Kelley's Textbook of Rheumatology. 9th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Saunders Elsevier; 2013. https://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed Sept. 3, 2014.

Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis