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Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis
Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (JRA) is a term used to describe a common type of arthritis in children. It is a long-term (chronic) disease resulting in joint pain and swelling.
Juvenile chronic polyarthritis; JRA; Still's disease; Juvenile idiopathic arthritis
The cause of JRA is not known. It is thought to be an autoimmune illness. This means the body attacks and destroys healthy body tissue by mistake.
JRA most often develops before age 16. Symptoms may start as early as 6 months old.
There are several types of JRA:
- Systemic (bodywide) JRA involves joint swelling or pain, fevers, and rash. It is the least common type.
- Polyarticular JRA involves many joints. This form of JRA 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 JRA involves four or less joints, most often the wrists, or knees. It also affects the eyes.
Symptoms of JRA 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 in a joint
- Bodywide symptoms such as pale skin, swollen lymph gland, and “sick” appearance
JRA can also cause eye problems called uveitis, iridocyclitis, or iritis. There may be no symptoms. When eye symptoms occur they can include:
Exams and Tests
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 that may include:
- Rheumatoid factor
- Erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR)
- Complete blood count (CBC)
- HLA antigens for HLA B27
Any or all of these blood tests may be normal in children with JRA.
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, too. The health care 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.
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:
- Biologic drugs, such as such as etanercept, infliximab, and related drugs
Children with JRA 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 JRA may need surgery, including joint replacement.
Children with only a few affected joints may have long periods with no symptoms.
In many children, the disease will become inactive and cause very little joint damage.
The more joints that are affected, the more severe the disease will be. It is less likely that symptoms will go away in these cases. These children more often have chronic pain, disability, and problems at school.
- Wearing away or destruction of joints (can occur in patients with more severe JRA)
- Slow rate of growth
- Uneven growth of an arm or leg
- Loss of vision or decreased vision from chronic uveitis (this problem may be severe, even when the arthritis is not very severe)
- Swelling around the heart (pericarditis)
- Chronic pain, poor school attendance
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your health care provider if:
- You, or your child, notice symptoms of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis
- Symptoms get worse or do not improve with treatment
- New symptoms develop
There is no known prevention for JRA.
Rabinovich CE. Evaluation of suspected rheumatic disease. In: Kliegman RM, Behrman RE, Jenson HB, Stanton BF, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics.19th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 147.
Long AR, Rouster-Stevens KA. The role of exercise therapy in the management of juvenile idiopathic arthritis. Curr Opin Rheumatol. 2010 Mar;22(2):213-7.
Prince FH, Otten MH, van Suijlekom-Smit LW. Diagnosis and management of juvenile idiopathic arthritis. BMJ. 2010 Dec 3;341:c6434.
Ruperto N, Lovell DJ, Quartier P, et al; Paediatric Rheumatology International Trials Organization and the Pediatric Rheumatology Collaborative Study Group. Long-term safety and efficacy of abatacept in children with juvenile idiopathic arthritis. Arthritis Rheum. 2010 Jun;62(6):1792-802.
Reviewed By: Gordon A. Starkebaum, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of Rheumatology, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, Bethanne Black, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.