Juvenile idiopathic arthritis

Last revised by Rohit Sharma on 20 Apr 2024

Juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA), also known as juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, is the most common chronic arthritic disease of childhood and corresponds to a group of different subtypes.

The estimated incidence is ~13 per 100,000 per annum 3. By definition, symptoms must start before 16 years of age. Females are more affected with F:M = 2:1.

Oligoarticular or polyarticular arthritis of a duration of six weeks or longer must be present to diagnose juvenile idiopathic arthritis.

Patients may present with an acute onset of symptoms or a more gradual onset. Symptoms are often worse in the morning but typically persist to some extent throughout the day.

In patients with systemic-onset (also known as Still disease), intermittent spiking fevers are typically noted, which helps distinguish juvenile idiopathic arthritis from other diseases such as infection, other inflammatory diseases and malignancy. Migratory salmon-colored light pink rash involving the trunk and/or extremities and hepatosplenomegaly are also frequently observed in patients with systemic-onset.

A proportion of patients have serum rheumatoid factor 9.

There are several subtypes of juvenile idiopathic arthritis 7,8:

  • oligoarticular JIA

    • affected ≤4 joints in the first six months of illness

    • peak age: 1-6 years

    • mainly affects medium and large joints

  • polyarticular JIA (pJIA)

    • ≥5 joints are affected

    • peak age: 1-4 years; 7-10 years

    • mainly affects small and medium joints

  • systemic onset JIA (Still disease, not to be confused with adult onset Still disease)

    • see above

    • arthritis may present weeks to months after the onset of systemic symptoms

Imaging shows a varied spectrum of involvement, based on the severity and duration of the disease. There is usually a predilection for large joints rather than small joints.

Findings on x-ray include soft tissue swelling, osteopenia, loss of joint space, erosions, growth disturbances (epiphyseal overgrowth or "ballooning") and joint subluxation.

Cervical spine radiographs may demonstrate:

Hepatosplenomegaly may be seen on abdominal radiographs, and pericardial or pleural effusions may be seen on chest radiographs.

Hips: can be common (reported range ~35-63% 15), especially with enthesitis-related arthritis and polyarticular subtypes 14

Knee: Widened intercondylar notch is a sign associated with juvenile idiopathic arthritis (and haemophilic arthropathy and tuberculous arthropathy). 

MRI may show synovial hypertrophy, joint effusions and rice bodies 10, as well as osseous and cartilaginous erosions. Active synovitis is characterized by enhancement in T1-weighted gadolinium contrast studies.

Management includes physical therapy, weight control, nutrition counseling, and drugs. The most commonly used drug is methotrexate. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), corticosteroids and biologic response modifiers also may be used. Surgery is only used in advanced disease to improve joint function.

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