Arthritis is a condition usually associated with older adults, but it can affect children as well. In fact, roughly 300,000 children in the U.S. have arthritis or some other rheumatic condition. Juvenile idiopathic arthritis (arthritis without a known cause), formerly known as juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, describes a group of about 100 conditions that affect children ages 17 and younger.

Juvenile arthritis is an autoimmune disease. This means the immune system, which helps protect the body from harm, mistakenly attacks the body's own tissues and organs. In people with arthritic conditions, the immune system primarily attacks the lining of the joints (the synovium). The symptoms of juvenile arthritis may come and go, and some children may eventually outgrow them.

The most common symptoms of juvenile idiopathic arthritis are:

  • Joint swelling
  • Stiffness (especially after waking)
  • Pain
  • Reduced motion

Juvenile idiopathic arthritis often begins in one of the larger joints, such as the knee, and can affect just one joint or many. One of the first indications of juvenile arthritis may be a limp when your child wakes up in the morning or after a nap.

Risk Factors and Causes
The origins of juvenile arthritis are still unclear. However, experts believe genetic and environmental factors both play a role. Certain genetic mutations (errors in genes) may make children more susceptible to environmental factors, such as viruses, which then trigger the development of arthritis. Girls are more likely to develop juvenile arthritis.

Left untreated, juvenile arthritis may:

  • Interfere with your child's growth
  • Cause swollen lymph nodes, rashes, fever, or inflammation of the membranes around the heart and lungs
  • Cause lost or decreased vision, cataracts, glaucoma, or even blindness

Eye problems can develop without symptoms, so schedule regular eye exams if your child has arthritis.

Treatment Options
Physicians primarily treat juvenile arthritis with medications. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) reduce pain and swelling, and sometimes over-the-counter NSAIDS such as ibuprofen and naproxen are all that's needed to manage symptoms. For more serious symptoms, disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs; common ones include methotrexate and azathioprine) suppress the immune system and may slow the progress of the disease. They may have side effects, though, which your child's doctor can discuss with you. To help prevent complications and control your child's symptoms until DMARDs take effect, corticosteroids like hydrocortisone may be used. These can have serious side effects and should be used sparingly. Your child's physician may prescribe other immune-suppressing drugs or other agents if she doesn't respond to traditional treatments.

Healthy Routines
You can help your child manage her arthritis by:

  • Applying hot or cold compressesto the affected areas
  • Making sure she eats a healthy diet that includes adequate calcium
  • Encouraging her to exercise. Swimming is a good option because it uses many joints and muscles without putting weight on the joints.


MedlinePlus. "Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis." Web. 3 March 2013.

PubMed Health. "Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis." A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia. Web. 28 June 2011.

Mayo Clinic. "Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis." Web. 20 October 2011.

National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS). "Questions and Answers about Juvenile Arthritis (Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis, Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis, and Other Forms of Arthritis Affecting Children)." Web. October 2012.