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Arthritis and children (juvenile idiopathic arthritis)

3-minute read

What is juvenile arthritis?

Arthritis is a medical condition that affects the joints, causing symptoms such as pain, swelling, and stiffness. When arthritis develops in someone under 16, it is called juvenile idiopathic arthritis (juvenile refers to children under 16; idiopathic means the cause is not known).

Arthritis in children can be mild or severe and may last for months or years. It can be similar to or different from arthritis in adults.

What are the types of juvenile arthritis?

There are several different types of juvenile arthritis. The main types are:

  • oligoarticular/pauciarticular — the most common type, usually begins at 2 to 4 years of age, and affects up to 4 joints, usually large joints like the knees and ankles
  • polyarticular — develops in children 1 to 12 years of age, and affects 5 or more joints. The same joints on each side of the body are affected, including fingers, toes, wrists, ankles, hips, knees, neck and jaw

Less common types of juvenile arthritis include:

  • systemic onset JIA — as well as affecting the joints, this also causes widespread inflammation with fever, rash, swollen glands, fatigue and aching limbs. It is also called Still’s disease
  • enthesitis-related — affects the points where bones meet tendons and ligaments. It most commonly affects the spine, heel, hips, knees and ankles
  • psoriatic — affects the skin as well as joints, causing a scaly rash

Doctors who specialise in diagnosing and treating juvenile arthritis are called paediatric rheumatologists.

What are the symptoms of juvenile arthritis?

The symptoms of juvenile arthritis can vary and can occur at different times for different children. Common symptoms include:

  • swelling, pain and stiffness in one or more joints (especially after rest) for at least 6 weeks
  • the skin over the joints being warm to the touch, or red

Less common symptoms are:

  • fever
  • feeling very tired, weak and not having any energy
  • skin rash
  • loss of appetite or weight
  • fever, generally feeling unwell
  • inflammation of the eyes (uveitis) and sometimes of other organs in the body

If you think your child may have arthritis, you should take them to a doctor. It is important that children with arthritis are diagnosed as early as possible so they can get necessary treatment to try to prevent any long-term joint damage or disability.

CHECK YOUR SYMPTOMS — Use our joint pain and swelling Symptom Checker and find out if you need to seek medical help.

How is juvenile arthritis treated?

Children with juvenile arthritis are usually treated by a multidisciplinary team of health professionals. This may include doctors (the child’s family doctor, rheumatologist or any other relevant specialists), nurses, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, podiatrists and social workers.

Treatment can include:

  • painkillers (for example, paracetamol) and anti-inflammatories (for example, ibuprofen) to help control pain and swelling
  • other medicines, such as steroids or disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs)
  • exercises to help with joint mobility, muscle strength, and pain
  • splints to help with the support or use of a joint

Resources and support

You can get more information from speaking to your doctor or specialist, and from the Arthritis Australia website.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: July 2020

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