Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis - Types, Symptoms and Living With RA


Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis or juvenile idiopathic arthritis is the stiffness, swelling and pain in the joints of children 16 years old and younger. This arthritis occurs in girls more often than boys and basically the immune system of the body attacks the joints and cells. The symptoms come and go and sometimes they only affect the children for a few months and sometimes they last a lifetime.

Exercise is an important part of treatment of the disease, with the support of the physicians, physical therapists and occupational therapists to assist with appropriate and beneficial regimens. Wake Forest University School of Medicine conducted a study of exercise therapy for juvenile arthritis patients and stated inactivity leads to decreased bone mass and an increase in the degree of disability.

Symptoms of Arthritis

Early detection and treatment will focus on maintaining the function of the joints, controlling pain and preventing damage to the joints. The watchful parent should seek medical attention for their child if they notice:

  • Swelling of the joints, often first seen in the knees and larger joints
  • Limping or wincing with bending or movement especially following periods of sleep
  • Sudden onset of clumsiness due to stiffness following periods of inactivity.
  • Tiredness and irritability
  • Decreased appetite causing weight loss and lack of normal growth
  • Spiking fevers with rash
  • Swollen glands or lymph nodes
  • Uveitis or eye inflammation
  • Photophobia or eye pain when looking at light

Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis occurs more often in children who have a family history that includes autoimmune disease but it is rare to have more than one family member with the diagnosis.


The type of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis depends on the symptoms, the number of joints affected and certain antibodies found in the blood and include:

  • Pauciarticular - This type of juvenile arthritis involves four or fewer joints and affects about 50% of the children diagnosed with arthritis. Frequently, knee and the large joints are affected and 20 to 30% of patients have eye disease such as uveitis or iritis. Although some children continue to have joint problems and eye problems, many outgrow it.
  • Polyarticular - About 30% of children with arthritis have the polyarticular kind, which affects five or more joints. Although the disease can attack larger joints, it typically involves those in the feet and hands. It usually is symmetrical, for example, if it is in one hand, then it is in the other hand. Doctors consider this type of arthritis to be the same as adult rheumatoid arthritis.

  • Systemic - Systemic juvenile rheumatoid arthritis or Still's disease affects 20% of the children with this disease. This form has joint swelling, but also fever and a pink rash and can involve the heart, liver and other internal organs. Some children have arthritis in multiple joints and have severe arthritis in adulthood.

It is important to see a doctor for an accurate diagnosis, as the symptoms are similar to cancer, lupus and other serious diseases.

Arthritis Aids

Keeping children with arthritis active is an important part of their treatment and one step in that direction, is to facilitate a good night's sleep. Tempurpedic pillows, a heated mattress pad and leg pillows can provide relief to aching joints. Ergonomic pens or the writing bird allows the arthritic student to take handwritten notes alongside his peers. The Arthritis Foundation also approves of Cardinal EasyOpen and SpineVue Binders that open, close and lock with one touch.

Personal care items such as a hair dryer holder, a long handled sponge or even a brush gripper for a tooth brush are tools for the child to gain independence and self reliant despite a potentially crippling disease. An assortment of products is available to enable the young person with arthritis to attain and maintain independence.

The diagnosis of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis requires action, treatment and a commitment to keep your child active and involved, despite the challenges. You have a choice of a variety of arthritis living aids and health care facilities to work towards the best outcome when facing this serious disease.

Joints Most Often Affected by Juvenile Arthritis

Knee Arthritis - Ideally, early and aggressive treatment, which includes anti rheumatic drugs, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs.

Hip Arthritis - although doctors cannot cure arthritis, they can often slow down the progression of the disease and decrease the pain.

Elbow Arthritis - Swelling of this joint may compress nerves that travel through the arm causing pain and stiffness.

Shoulder Arthritis - usually begin gradually and include pain, stiffness, redness, warmth to the touch, and joint swelling.

Hand Arthritis - joints may feel warm to the touch, a symptom that most often stems from the inflammation, causing swelling and pain.

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