Juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA) is a group of rheumatic diseases that begins at or before age 16. Arthritis, fever, rash, adenopathy, splenomegaly, and iridocyclitis are typical of some forms. Diagnosis is clinical. Treatment involves NSAIDs and disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs.
JIA is uncommon. The cause is unknown, but there seems to be a genetic predisposition and an autoimmune pathophysiology. JIA may be similar to adult RA (see Joint Disorders: Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)), but most forms are slightly different.
Symptoms and Signs
Patients with JIA can have joint stiffness, swelling, effusion, pain, and tenderness. JIA may interfere with growth and development. Micrognathia (receded chin) due to early closure of mandibular epiphyses may occur. Iridocyclitis may develop, which may cause conjunctival injection, pain, and photophobia but can be asymptomatic; scarring and glaucoma with band keratopathy can result. The initial symptoms and signs of JIA tend to fall into 3 possible patterns.
Systemic onset (Still's disease) occurs in about 20% of patients. High fever, rash, splenomegaly, generalized adenopathy, and serositis with pericarditis or pleuritis are common. These symptoms may precede the development of arthritis. Fever (quotidian) is often highest in the afternoon or evening and may persist for up to 2 wk. A typical transient rash often appears with the fever or may be diffuse and migratory, with urticarial or macular lesions.
Pauciarticular onset is characterized by involvement of ≤ 4 joints. It occurs in about 40% of patients, usually young girls. Iridocyclitis is most common in pauciarticular JIA, developing in nearly 20%. Many affected older boys have the HLA-B27 allele. Most of these boys subsequently develop classic features of one of the spondyloarthropathies (eg, ankylosing spondylitis, psoriatic arthritis, reactive arthritis).
Polyarticular onset involves ≥ 5 joints, often ≥ 20. It occurs in the remaining 40% of patients and is often similar to adult RA. Arthritis tends to be symmetric and develop slowly.
JIA should be suspected in children with symptoms of arthritis, signs of iridocyclitis, generalized adenopathy, splenomegaly, or unexplained rash or fever lasting more than a few days. Diagnosis is primarily clinical. Patients suspected of having JIA should be tested for RF, ANA, and ESR because these tests may be helpful in diagnosing JIA and distinguishing its subtypes. In Still's disease, RF and ANA are absent. In pauciarticular-onset JIA, ANA are present in up to 75% and RF is absent. In polyarticular-onset JIA, RF usually is negative, but in some patients, mostly adolescent girls, it can be positive.
To diagnose iridocyclitis, slit-lamp examination should be done, even in the absence of ocular symptoms. A recently diagnosed patient with pauciarticular onset should have an eye examination every 3 to 4 mo, and a patient with polyarticular onset should have an eye examination about every 6 mo.
Complete remissions occur in 50 to 75% of treated patients. Patients with polyarticular onset and a positive RF have a less favorable prognosis.
Similar to the therapy of patients with adult RA, disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs), particularly the biologic agents, have dramatically changed the therapeutic approach.
Symptoms may be reduced with NSAIDs. Naproxen 5 to 10 mg/kg po bid, ibuprofen 5 to 10 mg/kg po qid, and indomethacin 0.5 to 1.0 mg/kg po tid are among the most useful. Salicylates are rarely used because of their possible role in causing Reye's syndrome (see Miscellaneous Disorders in Infants and Children: Reye's Syndrome).
Except for severe systemic disease, systemic corticosteroids can usually be avoided. When necessary, the lowest possible dose is used (eg, oral prednisone, 0.0125 to 0.5 mg/kg qid, or the same daily dose given once or twice daily). Growth retardation, osteoporosis, and osteonecrosis are the major hazards of prolonged corticosteroid use in children. Intra-articular depot corticosteroids can be given. The dosage for children is adjusted based on weight. Children may need to be sedated for intra-articular injection.
Methotrexate is useful for pauciarticular and polyarticular disease. Adverse effects are monitored as in adults. Bone marrow depression and hepatic toxicity are monitored with CBC, AST, ALT, and albumin. Occasionally, sulfasalazine is used, especially in cases of suspected spondyloarthropathy. IM gold and penicillamine are rarely used.
Etanercept, used as in adults, blocks tumor necrosis factor-α (TNF-α) and is often effective; 0.4 mg/kg sc (up to a maximum of 25 mg) is given twice/wk. Anakinra is particularly effective in some patients with systemic-onset disease.
Physical therapy, exercises, splints, and other supportive measures help prevent flexion contractures. Adaptive devices can improve function and minimize unnecessary stresses on inflamed joints. Iridocyclitis is treated with ophthalmic corticosteroid drops and mydriatics (see Uveitis and Related Disorders: Juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA, previously known as juvenile RA)).
Last full review/revision February 2008 by Roy D. Altman, MD