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Juvenile idiopathic arthritis

Last updated: March 30, 2021

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Juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA; formerly called juvenile rheumatoid arthritis) is a broad term for childhood rheumatic diseases that begin before the age of 16 and are characterized by joint inflammation that lasts more than 6 weeks. It is classified into various types based on the pattern of joint involvement, the presence of extra-articular manifestations (e.g., uveitis, rash, nail changes, lymphadenopathy, hepatosplenomegaly), laboratory findings, and disease prognosis. Oligoarticular JIA, which is the most common type, presents with asymmetric involvement of up to four joints (with the knee joint most often affected). Nearly half of all cases of oligoarticular JIA are associated with anterior uveitis, which may be diagnosed by slit-lamp examination. Laboratory tests such as ESR, rheumatoid factor (RF), antinuclear antibodies (ANA), and the HLA-B27 antigen test are used to classify and determine the prognosis of JIA. Treatment of JIA is similar to that of adult rheumatoid arthritis and involves the use of NSAIDs, intra-articular steroid injections, and disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) such as methotrexate. Systemic glucocorticoid therapy should be avoided because of the risk of growth impairment.

  • Prevalence: 1:1000 children [1]
  • Sex: >
  • Age of onset: < 16 years of age

Epidemiological data refers to the US, unless otherwise specified.

Autoimmune and/or autoinflammatory disease → chronic synovial inflammation with infiltration of plasma cells, B lymphocytes, and T lymphocytes joint capsule hyperplasia growth of fibrovascular connective tissue (pannus) → invasion of the articular surface → loss of joint function [4]

For the exact pattern of joint involvement and specific extra-articular symptoms, see “Subtypes and variants” below.

The affected joints are often stiff in the morning or after longer periods of inactivity (e.g., sitting). Joint stiffness improves with movement and decreases later in the day.

Classification of juvenile idiopathic arthritis [4][5]
Type of JIA

Relative frequency

Peak incidence Sex Definition Pattern of joint involvement

Extra-articular manifestations

Laboratory findings Treatment Prognosis

Oligoarticular JIA

  • Most common form (accounts for 50% of all JIA cases)
  • 2–4 years
  • Asymmetrical pattern
  • Large, weight-bearing joints (knee and ankle) are usually affected.
  • ESR
  • Negative RF
  • Positive ANA (∼ 70% of cases)
  • Mostly good [6]

Seronegative polyarticular JIA [7]

  • 30% of cases
  • 1–4 years and 6–12 years (bimodal incidence)
  • Arthritis involving more than ≥ 5 joints within 6 months of disease onset
  • ESR
  • Negative RF
  • Positive ANA (∼ 40% of cases)
  • Variable clinical course and a high risk of functional limitation
Seropositive polyarticular JIA [7]
  • < 10% of cases
  • 9–12 years
  • Symmetrical
  • ESR
  • Positive RF
  • Persistent disease with periodic exacerbation and a high risk of progressive joint destruction
Systemic JIA (Still disease)
  • < 10% of cases
  • 2–4 years [8]
  • Arthritis involving ≥ 1 joint AND
  • Intermittent fever that lasts for at least two weeks with fever spikes occurring on at least 3 consecutive days AND
  • ≥ 1 extra-articular manifestation
  • Monoarthritis, oligoarthritis, and polyarthritis possible (most commonly affects ≥ 2 joints) [9]
  • Often involves knees, ankles, and wrists
  • The clinical course is highly variable.
  • Complete remission occurs in 40–50% of cases.

A prerequisite for the diagnosis of all forms of JIA is that arthritic symptoms begin before the age of 16 and last ≥ 6 weeks.

The clinical diagnosis of JIA can be supported by a number of diagnostic tests.

Laboratory tests

Blood tests are used to classify JIA, assess the prognosis, and rule out other similar conditions (see “Subtypes and variants” above).

Imaging tests

  • Ultrasound [12]
    • Used to detect synovial hypertrophy and intraarticular fluid collections
    • Best imagistic tool for the detection of early bone erosions
  • X-ray [13]
    • May be used for the identification of JIA complications
    • Should not be performed routinely

Other diagnostic tests

Anterior uveitis that occurs with JIA may be asymptomatic (especially in the case of chronic anterior uveitis). However, untreated anterior uveitis is associated with a high risk of developing glaucoma, cataracts, and optic nerve damage. Therefore, early detection via slit lamp examination and swift initiation of treatment are of paramount importance.

The differential diagnosis of JIA includes other causes of nonsuppurative arthritis in children: [16]

The differential diagnoses listed here are not exhaustive.

Definitive therapy

First-line therapy [17]

Second-line therapy

Supportive therapy

Most drugs that are used to treat adult rheumatoid arthritis may be used to treat JIA as well (see “Therapy” in “Rheumatoid arthritis”). However, certain forms of therapy (e.g., systemic glucocorticoid therapy) should, as a rule, be avoided in children.

We list the most important complications. The selection is not exhaustive.

The clinical course and prognosis are highly variable (see “Subtypes and variants” above) . Most cases (∼ 95%) resolve by puberty.

  • Factors associated with a poor prognosis [17]
    • Early onset
    • Prolonged active systemic disease
    • Hip and/or wrist involvement
    • Polyarticular involvement
    • Symmetrical disease
    • Presence of RF
    • Presence of anti-CCP antibodies

Early disease onset is associated with a greater degree of growth impairment and deformity.

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  2. Ellis JA, Munro JE, Ponsonby A-L. Possible environmental determinants of juvenile idiopathic arthritis. Rheumatology. 2009; 49 (3): p.411-425. doi: 10.1093/rheumatology/kep383 . | Open in Read by QxMD
  3. Petty RE, Laxer RM, Lindsley CB, Wedderburn L. Textbook of Pediatric Rheumatology. Elsevier ; 2015
  4. Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis. http://www.pathophys.org/jia/. Updated: February 19, 2017. Accessed: February 19, 2017.
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  6. Hamooda M, Fouad H, Galal N, Sewelam N, Megahed D. Anti-cyclic citrullinated peptide antibodies in children with Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis. Electronic physician. 2016; 8 (9): p.2897-2903. doi: 10.19082/2897 . | Open in Read by QxMD
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  8. Sheybani EF, Khanna G, White AJ, Demertzis JL. Imaging of juvenile idiopathic arthritis: a multimodality approach.. Radiographics. 2013; 33 (5): p.1253-73. doi: 10.1148/rg.335125178 . | Open in Read by QxMD
  9. Singhal O, Kaur V, Singhal M, Machave Y, Gupta A, Kalhan S. Arthroscopic synovial biopsy in definitive diagnosis of joint diseases: An evaluation of efficacy and precision. International Journal of Applied and Basic Medical Research. 2012; 2 (2): p.102. doi: 10.4103/2229-516x.106351 . | Open in Read by QxMD
  10. Angeles‐Han ST, Ringold S, Beukelman T, et al. 2019 American College of Rheumatology/Arthritis Foundation Guideline for the Screening, Monitoring, and Treatment of Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis–Associated Uveitis. Arthritis Care Res. 2019; 71 (6): p.703-716. doi: 10.1002/acr.23871 . | Open in Read by QxMD
  11. Kim KH, Kim DS. Juvenile idiopathic arthritis: Diagnosis and differential diagnosis. Korean Journal of Pediatrics. 2010; 53 (11): p.931. doi: 10.3345/kjp.2010.53.11.931 . | Open in Read by QxMD
  12. Beukelman T, Patkar NM, Saag KG, et al. 2011 American College of Rheumatology recommendations for the treatment of juvenile idiopathic arthritis: initiation and safety monitoring of therapeutic agents for the treatment of arthritis and systemic features. Arthritis Care Res. 2011; 63 (4): p.465-482. doi: 10.1002/acr.20460 . | Open in Read by QxMD
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  14. Schiappapietra B, Varnier G, Rosina S, Consolaro A, Martini A, Ravelli A. Glucocorticoids in juvenile idiopathic arthritis.. Neuroimmunomodulation. 2015; 22 (1-2): p.112-8. doi: 10.1159/000362732 . | Open in Read by QxMD
  15. Klein-Gitelman M. Classification of Juvenile Arthritis. In: Post TW, ed. UpToDate. Waltham, MA: UpToDate. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/classification-of-juvenile-arthritis.Last updated: September 21, 2017. Accessed: March 8, 2018.
  16. Al-Matar MJ, Petty RE, Tucker LB, Malleson PN, Schroeder ML, Cabral DA. The early pattern of joint involvement predicts disease progression in children with oligoarticular (pauciarticular) juvenile rheumatoid arthritis.. Arthritis Rheum. 2002; 46 (10): p.2708-15. doi: 10.1002/art.10544 . | Open in Read by QxMD
  17. Verbsky J, Oberle E, Harris J. Polyarticular juvenile idiopathic arthritis – epidemiology and management approaches. Clin Epidemiol. 2014 : p.379. doi: 10.2147/clep.s53168 . | Open in Read by QxMD
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  19. Systemic onset juvenile idiopathic arthritis. https://rarediseases.info.nih.gov/diseases/10966/systemic-onset-juvenile-idiopathic-arthritis. Updated: January 1, 2007. Accessed: August 13, 2020.
  20. Questions and Answers about Juvenile Arthritis. https://www.niams.nih.gov/health_info/juv_arthritis/. Updated: June 1, 2015. Accessed: February 19, 2017.
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