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Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis - Topic Overview

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Juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA) is a childhood disease that causes inflamed, swollen joints camera.gif. This makes joints stiff and painful. The term "juvenile idiopathic arthritis" is replacing the American "juvenile rheumatoid arthritis" and the European "juvenile chronic arthritis."

Some children with JIA grow out of it after they get treatment. Others will need ongoing treatment as adults.

There are several types of JIA.

  • Oligoarticular (formerly known as pauciarticular) is the most common form. It is often the mildest type. In this type, 1 to 4 joints are affected in the first 6 months of the disease. If 4 or fewer joints continue to be affected after the first 6 months, it is called persistent oligoarthritis. If more joints become affected after 6 months, it is called extended oligoarthritis. Your child may have pain in the knees, ankles, fingers, toes, wrists, elbows, or hips.
  • Polyarticular affects 5 or more joints in the first 6 months of symptoms and tends to get worse over time. It can be severe. It may be more like rheumatoid arthritis in adults.
  • Systemic can be the most serious. It causes pain in many joints. It can also spread to organs.
  • Enthesitis-related most often affects the areas where tendons and ligaments attach to bones (the enthesis). The joints may also be affected.
  • Psoriatic usually combines joint tenderness and inflammation with psoriasis of the skin or problems with nails.

Doctors don't really know what causes the disease. But there are a number of things that they think can lead to it. These things include:

  • An immune system that is too active and attacks joint tissues.
  • Viruses or other infections that cause the immune system to attack joint tissues.
  • Having certain genes that make the immune system more likely to attack joint tissues.

Children can have one or many symptoms, such as:

In some cases these symptoms can be mild and hard for you to see. A young child may be more cranky than normal. Or a child may go back to crawling after he or she has started walking. Your child's joints may feel stiff in the morning. Or your child may have trouble walking.

Children with this disease can also get inflammatory eye disease. This can lead to permanent vision problems or blindness if it's not treated. Eye disease often has no symptoms before vision loss occurs.

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