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What is juvenile arthritis? Symptoms, causes and treatment

The feet of a child illustrating a story on juvenile arthritisWe often associate arthritis with older people. But for every 1000 children in Australia there are 1-4 who have Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis (JIA).

JIA is painful and quite traumatic for a young child. Children with JIA cannot run around with their friends, play in the park or be involved in school sports. It is a life-altering condition for a child and for a child’s family.

So what exactly is Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis? What are the symptoms and why do children get it? What are the treatment options available?

What is Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis?

Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis is a type of imflammatory arthritis that can develop in children under the age of 15 years. The cause is not yet understood.

It presents with similar symptoms as in older people including joint stiffness, pain and reduced mobility. One to 4 children out of every 1000 have JIA in Australia.

What are the main symptoms of Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis?

The most common join-related symptoms of JIA include:

  • joint pain
  • swelling
  • stiffness
  • redness and warmth around the joint
  • tenderness around the joint

Over time, due to ongoing inflammation, there is a risk that permanent damage will occur to the joints. This results in reduced movement in joints and will make normal activities painful and difficult.

What causes Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis?

The causes of JIA are still not yet fully understood. So far research has suggested that genetics may be involved but the condition is not considered hereditary. So if you have one child with JIA it does not mean that your other children will also have JIA. Also it doesn’t mean that your child will pass on JIA to their own children. JIA is not contagious and cannot be passed to other children.

Research has also looked at the link between infection and JIA. One theory is that some form of infection may trigger JIA.

What happens when a child is diagnosed with Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis?

There is a range of treatment options available to children with JIA and what works for one child may not work for another. Finding the right treatment option for your child may require some trial and error. This can be frustrating but it is the path to finding the best treatment for your child.

Some common tests used to diagnose and manage JIA include:

  • Full Blood Count. A blood test to check for anything abnormal that might be important in managing the illness.
  • Rheumatoid Factor. This blood test is an indicator of the kind of JIA your child has.
  • Anti-Nuclear Antibody. This test helps identify the type of arthritis and is an important indicator for your child’s risk of developing eye problems.

A child with JIA may be referred to a rheumatologist – a doctor specially trained in the diagnosis and management of diseases that affect joints, muscles, and bones.

They may also require hospitalisation occasionally when special care is needed. This will be at the direction of the rheumatologist and not an emergency.

There are medicines available for the treatment of JIA. Some are taken by mouth and others are injections. Some will need to be prescribed by a doctor while others, mostly pain relief, can be bought over the counter.

Medicine used to treat JIA aim to:

  • Reduce the pain associated with JIA
  • Reduce fevers
  • Control inflammation
  • Change or slow the progression of JIA
  • Assist in maintaining a child’s ‘normal’ growth.


– written with information from Arthritis & Osteoporosis NSW


 Arthritis Awareness Week is from March 15-21, 2015. Arthritis & Osteoporosis NSW will mark the end of Arthritis Awareness Week with William’s Walk to celebrate the life of William Harris, who was diagnosed at two years old and passed away in 2011 at the age of six. Sign up for William’s Walk to help raise funds for JIA. The walk is Saturday March 21 from 10.30am – Pavilion Flat, Parramatta Park, NSW 2124

Image credit: zurijeta/123RF Stock Photo

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