My child is too young to have arthritis, aren’t they?

Many consider arthritis to be a disease that only affects the elderly. However, individuals of every age can suffer from arthritis. In the United States, nearly 300,000 children suffer from some form of arthritis. Some may only have it for a few months, while others will have arthritis for the rest of their lives. While juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (also called juvenile idiopathic arthritis) may seem similar to arthritis found in adults, JIA is very different.

What Is JIA?

Juvenile idiopathic arthritis is an autoimmune disorder that causes inflammation and stiffness in the joints.  It occurs in children 16 years old and younger and limits their mobility. JIA includes several types of arthritis previously known as JRA. In recent years, though, researchers have developed a more sophisticated understanding of the differences between specific types of arthritis, and the terminology and definition of the disease has shifted.

There are six divisions of JIA:

  • Oligoarthitis: Formerly known as pauciarticular. About half of all children with JRA have this type, making it the most common form. With oligoarthitis, four or fewer joints are affected. It generally causes inflammation in larger joints, but it is also responsible for eye diseases. Most children with oligoarthitis will outgrow the disease by adulthood, but some will have residual issues.
  • Polyarticular: Five or more joints are affected with polyarticular JIA. This form most commonly affects small joints in the hands and feet. Polyarticular JIA is often caused by an antibody in the blood stream referred to as the rheumatoid factor. This is a more serious form of JIA, similar to the kind of arthritis found in adults.
  • Systemic: In systemic JIA, swelling and inflammation are present in joints, along with other symptoms. It causes fever, rashes and can affect internal organs. Those suffering from systemic JIA may have arthritis for the rest of their life.
  • Enthesitis-related arthritis: This type involves inflammation of the enthuses, sites where tendons attach to the bone. The arthritis can be mild, involving four or fewer joints in roughly half of cases. In some children, arthritis can move to the spine.
  • Juvenile Psoriatic Arthritis: In this form of arthritis, the skin condition called psoriasis may precede or follow the symptoms of psoriatic arthritis, sometimes by years.
  • Other: Any arthritis of unknown cause with symptoms lasting at least six weeks, that doesn’t meet criteria for any one type of JIA or includes symptoms that cover two or more types.


The main difference between arthritis in adults and JIA is that children will often outgrow their symptoms. While some children will have arthritis as an adult, most will not. Another difference is that JIA can affect a child’s bones development, hindering their growth.


As with every type of arthritis, JIA is characterized by symptoms flaring up for periods at a time before disappearing. Some of the most common symptoms of JIA include:

  • Joint Pain
  • Limping
  • Swelling of the Joints
  • Stiffness
  • Swollen Lymph Nodes
  • Rash
  • Fever
  • Weight Loss
  • Eye Problems

Symptoms are often worse in the morning or after taking naps. If you notice any of these symptoms in your child, especially a fever, take them to see their doctor.

Causes and Risk Factors

JIA is thought to be caused by the body’s immune system attacking its own cells. There is new research currently being conducted that suggest it may be an autoinflammatory issue or neither autoimmune or autoinflammatory. Currently, there is no evidence to suggest that any environmental factors attribute to JIA. Girls under the age of 8 years old are at the most risk.


In general, the treatment options for JIA focus on controlling your child’s symptoms. The best way to treat your child’s JIA is through a combination of medication and therapies that aim to relieve pain and reduce swelling, as well as help maintain full range of motion and strength.


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