Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis
(JRA; Juvenile Chronic Polyarthritis; Stills Disease)
Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (JRA), also known as juvenile idiopathic arthritis, is a disease of the joints in children. It can affect a child over a long period of time. JRA often starts before the child is 16 years old.
In JRA, the joint becomes swollen. It will make the joint painful and difficult to move. JRA can also lead to long term damage to the joint. For some, JRA can interfere with the child's growth and development.
There are 5 major types of JRA:
- Pauciarticular JRA—4 or less joints are affected in the first 6 months of illness
- Polyarticular JRA—5 or more joints are affected in the first 6 months of illness
- Enthesitis associated arthritis—swelling of the tendon at the bone
- Psoriatic arthritis—associated with a skin disease called psoriasis
- Systemic onset JRA (also called Still disease)—affects the entire body, least common type of JRA
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JRA is caused by a problem of the immune system. The normal job of the immune system is to find and destroy items that should not be in the body, like viruses. With JRA, the immune system attacks the healthy tissue in the joint. It is not clear why this happens. The immune system problems may be caused by genetics and/or factors in the environment.
Girls are more likely to get JRA than boys.
There are no clear risk factors for JRA. Factors that may be associated with some types of JRA include:
Family history of:
- Anterior uveitis with eye pain
- Inflammatory back arthritis (ankylosing spondylitis)
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Arthritis and a family history of psoriasis in a first-degree relative (for psoriatic arthritis)
Symptoms may include:
- Joint stiffness, especially in the morning or after periods of rest
- Pain, swelling, tenderness, or weakness in the joints
- Weight loss
- Fatigue or irritability
- Swelling in the eye—especially associated with eye pain, redness, or sensitivity to light
- Swollen lymph nodes
Growth problems, such as:
- Growth that is too fast or too slow in one joint (may cause one leg or arm to be longer than the other)
- Joints grow unevenly, off to one side
- Overall growth may be slowed
Some symptoms are specific to each type of JRA. For example:
Symptoms common with
pauciarticular JRA include:
- Problems most often found in large joints. These joints include knees, ankles, wrists, and elbows.
- If the left-side joint is affected, then the right-side similar joint will not be affected. For example, if the right knee is affected, then the left knee will be healthy.
- May also have swelling and pain at on the tendons and ligaments attached to the bone
Symptoms common with
polyarticular JRA include:
- Problems found most often in small joints of the fingers and hands. May also affect weight-bearing joints like the knees, hips, ankles, and feet.
- Joints on both sides of the body are affected. For example, if the left hand is affected, then the right hand will also be affected.
- May also have a blood disorder called anemia. This is an abnormally low number of red blood cells.
One type of polyarticular JRA may occur with:
- A low-grade fever
- Nodules—bumps on parts of body that receive a lot of pressure such as elbows
Symptoms common with systemic onset JRA include:
- Some of the first signs may be a high fever, chills, and a rash on the thighs and chest. May appear on and off for weeks or months
- May have swelling in the heart, lungs, and surrounding tissues
- The lymph nodes, liver, and/or spleen may become enlarged
- Children with enthesitis arthritis often have tenderness over the joint where the pelvis and spine meet.
- Children with psoriatic arthritis often have finger or toe swelling. There may also be damage on fingernails.
Often, there are remissions and flare-ups. Remission is a time when the symptoms improve or disappear. Flare-ups are times when symptoms become worse.
You will be asked about your child’s symptoms. You will also be asked about your family medical history. A physical exam will be done. An eye examination may also be done to check for swelling in the eye. Your child may be referred to a specialist if JRA is suspected. The specialist is a doctor who focuses on diseases of the joints.
Images may be taken of your child's bodily structures. This can be done with x-rays.
Your child's bodily fluids may be tested. This can be done with:
- Blood tests
- Urine tests
- Tests of joint fluid
Talk with your doctor about the best plan for your child. The plan will work to control swelling, relieve pain, and control joint damage. The goal is to keep a high level of physical and social function. This will help keep a good quality of life. Treatment options include the following:
There are several types of medication that may be used:
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)—to help swelling and pain
- Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs)—to slow the progression of the disease
- Tumor necrosis factor (TNF) blockers—to decrease swelling, pain, and joint stiffness
- Interleukin inhibitors—to reduces disease activity
- Corticosteroids through IV or by mouth—for swelling
- Steroid injections into the joint—may help relieve swelling and pain in some children
Polyarticular JRA may become inactive in children who begin medications within 2 years of onset.
Exercise is done to strengthen muscles and to help manage pain. Strong nearby muscles will support the joint. It also helps to recover the range of motion of the joints. Normal daily activities are encouraged. Non-contact sports and recreational activities may be good options. Physical activities can also help boost a child's confidence in their physical abilities.
Physical therapy may be needed. This will help to make the muscles strong and keep the joints moving well.
Splints and other devices may be recommended. They may be worn to keep bone and joint growth normal. Some joints may get stuck in a bent position. These devices can help prevent this.
There is no known way to prevent JRA.
American College of Rheumatology
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Last reviewed November 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Kari Kassir, MD Last Updated: 12/20/2014