Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis Basics 2024(for Kids & Teens)

Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (JRA), also known as juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA), is a type of arthritis that causes joint inflammation and pain in children and teenagers. JRA is an autoimmune disease, which means the immune system attacks healthy cells and tissues by mistake. In JRA, the immune system attacks the lining of joints, which causes swelling, pain, and stiffness.

JRA is the most common type of arthritis in kids and teens. About 1 in every 1,000 children in the United States develops JRA. The condition affects girls more often than boys. JRA usually appears between ages 6 and 12, but it can develop as early as infancy or as late as age 16.

While there is no cure for JRA, with early and proper treatment, most kids with JRA can lead active, productive lives. The goals of JRA treatment are to relieve pain and inflammation, slow or prevent joint damage, and maintain movement and strength.

What Causes Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Doctors don’t know exactly what triggers the immune system to attack the joints in JRA. Researchers think a combination of genetic and environmental factors plays a role.

Possible triggers include:

  • Genetics: Kids whose family members have rheumatoid arthritis or other autoimmune diseases have a higher risk of developing JRA. However, most kids with JRA do not have a family history of the disease.
  • Infections: Viral or bacterial infections may trigger JRA in some children. The body mistakes healthy cells and tissues for the virus or bacteria, leading to misdirected immune system attacks.
  • Abnormal immune response: For unknown reasons, the immune system starts attacking the lining of joints, resulting in inflammation and damage.

Types of Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis

There are several types of JRA, classified by the number of joints affected and symptoms:

Oligoarticular JRA

  • Affects 4 or fewer joints, usually large joints like knees, ankles, elbows or wrists
  • Most common type of JRA (about half of cases)
  • Usually starts before age 6
  • More common in girls than boys

Polyarticular JRA

  • Affects 5 or more joints
  • About 30-40% of JRA cases
  • Usually, the small joints of the hands and feet are affected as well as larger joints
  • Can begin at any age

Systemic JRA

  • Also called Still’s disease; about 10% of JRA cases
  • Affects the whole body, causing fever, rash, and inflammation throughout the body
  • Joint pain and swelling may develop weeks or months after initial fever and rash
  • More common in girls than boys
  • Onset peaks between ages 1-5

Psoriatic JRA

  • About 5-10% of JRA cases
  • Joint symptoms occur along with a skin rash called psoriasis
  • Can affect any joints
  • Tends to affect fingernails and toenails as well

Enthesitis-related JRA

  • About 10-20% of JRA cases
  • Affects areas where tendons and ligaments attach to bones (enthesitis)
  • Common areas are the knees, ankles, and feet
  • Usually starts after age 8
  • More common in boys than girls

Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of JRA can vary widely depending on the type. However, common symptoms include:

  • Joint pain, swelling, and stiffness– usually affect the knees, hands, ankles, elbows, and wrists. Joint swelling may come and go. Stiffness is usually worse after waking up or sitting still.
  • Limping– children may limp if leg joints are affected.
  • Decreased range of motion– joints don’t move as much as normal due to swelling and stiffness.
  • Joint warmth or redness– joints may feel warm to the touch and look red and swollen.
  • Fever– low-grade fever may accompany JRA, especially with systemic JRA.
  • Rash– raised, dark pink rashes may appear with systemic JRA.
  • Fatigue, malaise– children often feel tired and unwell in general.
  • Irritability or mood changes– discomfort from joint pain can cause crankiness.
  • Loss of appetite– children may not feel hungry if unwell.
  • Eye inflammation– about 1/3 of kids with oligoarticular JRA develop eye inflammation called uveitis.

Symptoms of JRA can come and go. They are often worse in the morning or after naps. Symptoms usually improve with activity and movement. Make sure to contact the doctor if symptoms persist or get worse, a fever develops, or new symptoms appear.

Diagnosing Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis

Doctors diagnose JRA primarily based on symptoms, physical examination findings, and blood test results. Diagnostic steps may include:

  • Medical history– the doctor will ask about your child’s symptoms when they started, family medical history, and any recent infections.
  • Physical exam– the doctor will check for joint swelling, redness, warmth, and range of motion, and look for signs of eye inflammation.
  • Blood tests– blood is tested for inflammation markers such as ESR (erythrocyte sedimentation rate) and CRP (C-reactive protein). Higher levels indicate more inflammation.
  • Imaging tests– X-rays, MRI, or ultrasound images can help see joint damage.
  • Eye exam– the doctor will use a slit lamp to check for uveitis.

Your doctor may refer you to a pediatric rheumatologist, a doctor who specializes in arthritis and similar conditions in children. Early diagnosis and treatment are important to prevent permanent joint damage.

Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis Treatment

While there is no cure for JRA, early treatment helps relieve symptoms, reduce inflammation, prevent joint damage, and preserve movement and function. The main goals of JRA treatment include:

  • Relieving pain and inflammation
  • Preserving full movement and function
  • Achieving disease remission (little disease activity)
  • Preventing joint damage
  • Minimizing medication side effects

Common medications used to treat JRA include:

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)

  • Help reduce swelling, pain, and fever
  • Common examples: ibuprofen, naproxen

Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs)

  • Stronger immunosuppressant medications
  • Help reduce inflammation and prevent joint damage
  • Examples: methotrexate, hydroxychloroquine

Biologic agents

  • Target specific parts of immune system inflammation
  • Used for more severe JRA
  • Given by injection or IV infusion
  • Examples: abatacept, adalimumab, etanercept


  • Powerful anti-inflammatory drugs
  • Usually used short-term or as joint injections
  • Examples: prednisone, methylprednisolone

Physical and occupational therapy

  • Help maintain joint mobility and function
  • Teach exercises to improve strength and flexibility
  • Provide devices like splints to support joints

Treatment plans are tailored to each child depending on JRA type, severity, response to medications, and presence of complications. Work closely with your rheumatologist to find the most effective treatment plan for your child.

Living with Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis

JRA can have significant effects on a child’s physical health, emotional well-being, and daily life. Some tips for living with JRA include:

Take medications consistently

  • Work with your doctor to find medications that are effective with minimal side effects. Take them exactly as prescribed.

Prioritize physical activity

  • With your doctor’s okay, have your child stay active each day with exercise and play to maintain strength and mobility. Low-impact activities like swimming, biking, and walking are great options.

Monitor symptoms

  • Track your child’s symptoms, activities, diet, and medications each day so you can discuss progress and any setbacks with the doctor.

Encourage openness about feelings

  • Let your child express their fears, frustrations, and limitations so you can provide emotional support and help them cope. Consider counseling.

Communicate with the school

  • Inform teachers about your child’s condition, activity limits, and how they can accommodate and support your child.

Connect with others

  • Join local or online JRA support groups to exchange tips and encouragement.

Make lifestyle adjustments

  • Help your child balance rest and activity periods. Use joint protection techniques. Include nutrient-rich anti-inflammatory foods.

Remain positive and patient

  • Praise your child’s efforts and focus on their strengths. Be flexible and allow time for symptoms to improve. Celebrate small daily successes!

While JRA presents daily challenges, maintaining a positive outlook and open communication with your child and their healthcare providers sets the stage for the best outcome. With proper treatment, most children with JRA live happy, active lives.

Frequently Asked Questions about Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis

Here are answers to some common questions about juvenile rheumatoid arthritis:

What causes JRA?

The exact cause is unknown, but it’s believed to be an abnormal autoimmune response that makes the immune system attack healthy joint tissue, causing inflammation and damage. Genetics and environmental factors may contribute.

Is JRA the same as rheumatoid arthritis in adults?

No. Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (JRA) refers to arthritis conditions that develop in children under age 16. Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is the term used for arthritis that develops in adults. While they share some similarities, JRA and RA are considered separate conditions.

What are the different types of JRA?

The main types of JRA are oligoarticular JRA (few joints), polyarticular JRA (many joints), systemic JRA (whole body), psoriatic JRA, and enthesitis-related JRA. Each has its own symptoms and joint pattern.

How is JRA diagnosed?

Doctors diagnose JRA based on symptoms, exam findings like joint swelling/warmth, blood tests for inflammation, and imaging tests. A pediatric rheumatologist can provide specialized expertise.

How is JRA treated?

Treatment focuses on relieving inflammation and preventing joint damage using NSAIDs, DMARDs, biologics, steroids, and physical/occupational therapy. Treatment is tailored to the child’s specific case.

What is the long-term outlook for kids with JRA?

With early effective treatment, most kids with JRA live full, active lives. Symptoms may come and go but often improve after puberty. Maintaining a positive attitude greatly helps kids cope with JRA.

Can JRA affect the eyes and other body systems?

Yes, about 1/3 of kids with oligoarticular JRA develop eye inflammation called uveitis. Systemic JRA can cause fever and rash throughout the body. Make sure other systems are monitored.

What self-care tips help kids with JRA?

Staying active, resting when needed, communicating openly, following treatment plans, eating a healthy diet, using joint protection techniques, seeking support, and keeping a positive outlook all help kids thrive with JRA.

JRA can be challenging to manage, but being informed and proactive makes a significant difference. Work closely with your child’s healthcare providers and support groups to get the information, care, and encouragement you need.


Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis is a complex autoimmune condition, but with today’s treatment options, the long-term outlook for kids with JRA is quite promising. The keys are early diagnosis, customized treatment plans, closely monitored disease care, and devoted support from family and healthcare providers.

While JRA presents daily management challenges, maintaining an optimistic perspective and open communication enables most children with JRA to live joyful, fulfilling lives. Researchers continue working to uncover the causes of JRA and develop improved treatments until someday a cure can be found.

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