Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis: everything you need to know

Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis causes painful joint inflammation. It usually starts before the age of 16.
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Symptoms can appear in children or even babies.

About 1 in 1,000 children develops some form of arthritis. Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis is the most common type of arthritis in children.

Most doctors now call the condition Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis, or JIA. A condition is idiopathic when its cause is unknown. While doctors think of JIA as an autoimmune condition, meaning it occurs when the body attacks healthy tissue, they don’t know why some children get it.

In this article, learn about the symptoms, causes, and treatment of JIA. We also cover the long-term outlook for people with this condition.

Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis symptoms

Symptoms of JIA vary depending on its subtype. However, the most common symptoms include:

  • Joint pain: Arthritis pain can get worse after an injury or persist even after the injury has healed. Many children report that the pain is worse in the morning. It tends to get worse over time and generally affects the joints on both sides of the body.
  • Eye health problems: Although eye infections and other eye infections are common in children, children with JIA are more vulnerable to chronic and serious eye problems. They may develop pain or inflammation in the eyes that does not go away.
  • Unexplained tiredness: Children with JIA may appear chronically exhausted or have low energy, even when they get enough sleep.
  • Lack of appetite: Some children with JIA eat very little or stop eating foods they once enjoyed, which can lead to weight loss.
  • Fever or rash: Some children with JIA have an unexplained fever or rash. The fever can come and go, or it can persist even when a child doesn’t seem sick.
  • Stiff Joints – Your joints and lower back may feel less flexible than normal, and some movements may be painful or impossible.
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    The stiffness is usually worse in the morning.
  • Swelling or redness: Arthritis is inflammation in the joints, which can lead to swelling or redness around painful joints. Inflammation also occurs when tendons and ligaments insert into the bone (enthesitis).

Doctors classify JIA into several subtypes depending on how many and which joints the disease affects, the severity of symptoms, and the antibodies produced by the immune system.

The types of JIA

  • Oligoarticular JIA, which affects no more than four joints and usually involves larger joints, such as the ankles or knees. Children with this type of arthritis are more vulnerable to eye inflammation, especially if they test positive for antinuclear antibody (ANA).
  • Polyarticular JIA, affecting five or more joints. Symptoms often appear on the hands and feet, and generally affect both sides of the body. It is more common in women than in men.
  • Systemic JIA, also called Still’s disease, is the most serious and least common type. It affects at least one joint and causes inflammation in organs such as the spleen and kidneys.
  • Juvenile psoriatic arthritis is an arthritis linked to psoriasis, an autoimmune condition, which causes a painful, scaly rash. Some children develop psoriasis several years before arthritis symptoms, which usually affect the fingers and toes, wrists, knees, and ankles.
  • JIA related to enthesitis, which causes pain where bones meet connective tissue, such as ligaments or tendons. It usually affects the knees, feet, and hips. It is sometimes called spondyloarthritis and is most common in children, usually developing between the ages of 8 and 15 years.
  • Undifferentiated JIA does not fit into any of the above categories or causes symptoms consistent with two or more JIA subtypes.


Children with allergies are more likely to develop JIA, as allergies can trigger the activation of genes for arthritis. Most research suggests that JIA is an autoimmune disease. Autoimmune disorders occur when the immune system starts an attack against healthy tissue as if it were an infection. In JIA, the immune system attacks joint tissue.

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