Many people have never heard juvenile arthritis (JA), but it affects twice as many children as Type 1 (formerly called juvenile) diabetes. According to the Arthritis Foundation, approximately 294,000 children in the United States — one in every 250 — have some kind of arthritis or rheumatic condition, which cause joint pain and swelling.
The cause is unknown and there is no cure. Treatment of JA is focused on managing the symptoms.
Because many conditions fall under the category of “arthritis or rheumatic condition,” it can be difficult to narrow down which type of JA your child may be experiencing. Learning about the types of juvenile arthritis and their symptoms can help you recognize when you need to seek care if your child has joint pain.
The most common type of JA in the United States is juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (JRA), which has three subtypes. Subtypes polyarticular JRA and pauciarticular JRA make up 90 percent of cases. Polyarticular JRA involves chronic pain in many joints on both sides of the body, including the knees, wrists, ankles, hips, neck, shoulders and jaw. Pauciarticular JRA affects fewer than four joints; most often the wrists or knees, and can cause eye inflammation. The illnesses occur in girls and boys, but girls are more likely to be affected.
The third subtype, systemic JRA, is less common. It affects the entire body and symptoms include high fever, rash and swelling in the hands, wrists, knees and ankles. The disease usually begins in children younger than age 6 and may lead to short adult stature.
Other types of juvenile arthritis include spondyloarthropathy, psoriatic arthritis, dermatomyositis, systemic lupus erythematosus and vasculitis.
Juvenile arthritis is often undetected or misdiagnosed. If your child is experiencing pain, swelling and stiffness in multiple joints for six weeks or longer, contact your child’s primary care physician or a rheumatologist immediately. Early treatment can help slow or even stop the effects of the disease and prevent disability later in life.