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What is it?

Juvenile idiopathic arthritis, (JIA) previously known as juvenile rheumatoid arthritis or Still's disease, is a chronic disease of the connective tissue that usually presents before the age of 16. It can cause joint and connective tissue damage and is the most common form of arthritis among children. There are several types of JIA. The number of joints involved and the results of certain blood tests, such as for rheumatoid factor, vary between these types.

Although it primarily appears as arthritis, JIA may also affect the heart and its lining, the lungs and their lining, the eyes and skin. About one-fifth of those with JIA have an enlarged spleen as well as joint inflammation.

JIA may begin with stiff and swollen joints that are painful. The affected child may have a low-grade fever and a rash. The cause is unknown but it usually begins between the ages of two and five or between nine and 12. More girls than boys develop it, and it may be associated with a family history of the disease and recent rubella infection. Ocular (eye) involvement with uveitis (inflammation of the iris) is common in some types of JIA.

What tests are used?

Diagnosis of JIA is based on review of clinical signs and symptoms, such as persistent arthritis in one or more joints, for at least six weeks that cannot be attributed to another cause. Someone with JIA may also have an enlarged liver or spleen, swollen lymph nodes, signs of anaemia, heart problems and shortness of breath. They may also have inflammation of the iris (uveitis).

Laboratory tests that can help in the diagnosis, including ruling out other disorders, are:

Other tests of diagnostic use include joint and chest X-rays to identify the presence of joint inflammation or fluid build-up around the heart or lungs, and ECG to detect inflammation of the heart.

What treatments exist?

JIA is a chronic illness that cannot be cured but certain treatments can help to alleviate pain and maintain mobility and joint function, including physiotherapy, exercise and some of the following medications: aspirin and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs); corticosteroids; mydriatics; methotrexate; biologics including TNF alpha inhibitors.


Last Review Date: July 31, 2016