Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis

What is juvenile idiopathic arthritis?

Juvenile idiopathic arthritis is the most common autoimmune joint condition in children. It occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks the healthy tissues of the joints. The causes are not well understood, but genes may influence the development of this condition. The symptoms involve pain, swelling and stiffness of one or more joints. The diagnosis is usually made based on the symptoms and on a physical examination. Treatment involves taking medications which dampen the immune system. Many children with this condition live well with treatment, and find that the symptoms improve over time.

Risks

Juvenile idiopathic arthritis is an autoimmune joint condition. That means the immune system mistakenly attacks the healthy tissues of the joint. Causes are unknown, but genes may influence the development of this condition. This condition tends to affect children younger than 10, and can affect children as young as 1 year old. It does not occur in adolescents older than 16 years of age. Symptoms tend to manifest at a younger age in girls than in boys.

Symptoms

The most common symptoms of juvenile idiopathic arthritis are painful, swollen and stiff joints which may be accompanied by a rash on the trunk, arms and legs. The joints that are most commonly affected are the wrists, knees and ankles, but other joints can be involved. Many children with this condition also experience regular fevers. The symptoms need to be present for longer than 6 weeks for the diagnosis to be made.

Diagnosis

The diagnosis of juvenile idiopathic arthritis is based on the symptoms and on a physical examination. There is no specific test for this condition, and before the diagnosis can be made, other possible causes for the symptoms should be excluded. X-rays and a series of blood tests are usually carried out at this stage. A diary of symptoms may be helpful in making the diagnosis.

Treatment

Juvenile idiopathic arthritis is treated with medications which suppress the overactive immune system. This is usually chosen by a specialist in childhood joint conditions. Physiotherapy and occupational therapy programmes can be helpful in maintaining strong joints and increasing the patient’s ability to do normal activities.