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Arthritis and children (juvenile arthritis)

2 min read

Arthritis doesn’t just affect older people – it can affect young people too. It’s important to identify and manage symptoms of arthritis in children as early as possible.

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 arthritis.

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.

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 2–4 years of age, and affects up to 4 joints
  • polyarticular – develops in children 1–12 years of age, and affects 5 or more joints.

Less common types of juvenile arthritis include:

  • systemic – involves other symptoms such as fever and rash
  • enthesitis-related – affects the points where bones meet tendons and ligaments
  • psoriatic – affects the skin as well as joints.

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

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
  • rash
  • loss of appetite.

Some forms of juvenile arthritis can affect areas of the body, such as the skin, internal organs, eyes and bones.

If you think your child may have arthritis, it’s important to take them to a doctor. Clinical guidelines in Australia recommend 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.

Treating juvenile arthritis  

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:

  • pain killers (for example, paracetamol) and anti-inflammatories (for example, ibuprofen) to help control pain and swelling
  • other medications, 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.

Last reviewed: February 2017

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