The term "juvenile arthritis" encompasses many different forms of arthritis and refers to any that occur in children or teenagers under the age of 18. Arthritis is most commonly found in older patients. Juvenile arthritis is a chronic, non-contagious disease that can be debilitating and may require both physical and medical treatment. Children may grow out of juvenile arthritis but many also suffer from the condition into adulthood.
Arthritis is an autoimmune disease, meaning that the body's cells attack themselves. One or more joints may swell, causing stiffness and possibly damage to the joint and altered growth of that joint. It can be extremely painful and disabling and may require long-term analgesic treatment in combination with other drugs, such as disease-modifying drugs, biologics and/or corticosteroids, depending on the type and symptoms of the condition.
Juvenile arthritis is divided into three main types, namely oligoarticular, polyarticular and systemic juvenile arthritis. Each is defined by different symptoms and outcomes. Classification and diagnosis is done by symptomatic assessment and measurement of certain antibodies in the blood.
Oligoarticular juvenile arthritis, which is also referred to as pauciarticular juvenile arthritis, affects less than five joints, and often it's just one. It most commonly affects the knees, wrists and ankles. When only one joint is affected, it is usually mild and resolves over time. Occasionally eye inflammation is found concurrently, and regular eye checks should be done on children with this condition.
Polyarticular juvenile arthritis affects five or more joints, most commonly the smaller joints of the hands and feet. It often affects both sides of the body and is more common in girls than boys. This type is thought to be the most closely related form of juvenile arthritis to adult rheumatoid arthritis.
Systemic juvenile arthritis, like the other types, causes pain and swelling in at least one joint, but is accompanied by systemic effects. These include spiking fevers of over 102 degrees Fahrenheit (38.8 degrees Celsius) for two weeks or longer, rash and inflammation of organs such as the heart or liver. Treatment is essential to prevent severe arthritis in adulthood.
All types of arthritis go through quiescent periods and flare-ups. Some children may have a single flare-up of the condition and never experience it again, and for others the condition may be chronic and persist into adulthood. Treatment is prescribed symptomatically and includes drug therapy and physical therapy. The main goals of treatment are to maintain function, prevent long-term damage, treat symptoms and minimize pain.