How to tell if your child has Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis

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We usually associate arthritis with older people, not children. What we are thinking of is osteoarthritis, which is basically the “wear and tear” version of arthritis, resulting from regular use of the joints. There is also a type of arthritis known as rheumatoid arthritis, which is actually an autoimmune disorder and is caused by the body’s immune system attacking itself. However, even this form of arthritis is more common in people over forty year of age, not children.

Nonetheless, there is a type of arthritis called juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (JRA) or juvenile idiopathic arthritis that affects children. It causes joint pain, swelling and stiffness. In other words, it inflicts on children the same kinds of symptoms as those that affect older people with arthritis. It is the most common type of arthritis among those under the age of sixteen. Not that arthritis among children is very common, but if a child is suffering from arthritis, there is a very good chance that it’s JRA.

The disease may only last a few months, or it might be a chronic condition that an individual will have to manage for their whole lives. Because it occurs at a time when the body is focussed on growth, it’s not a surprise that it can cause problems with growth. And because it’s really an autoimmune disease, it isn’t necessarily limited to the joints. It can also cause problems with eyes among other complications.

Signs and Symptoms of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis

Children will acknowledge and mention some things to a parent, however it will often need a parent to notice symptoms rather than being told. This is especially true of pain symptoms, since it’s been observed that children may be experiencing pain, but don’t bring it up to a parent or guardian. Whatever the case, what’s clear is that the impetus to get treatment won’t be with the child who is actually experiencing the symptoms. Rather it is incumbent on the parent to notice the second hand signs that their children may not actually even wish to display.

signs and symptoms of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis


The most common symptom of any type of arthritis is pain in the joints. This is often accompanied by warmth, stiffness or swelling. As mentioned, while pain is the most obvious indicator, children often will not recognize or report joint pain. Stiffness and swelling will often be more severe in the morning after sleep.

The result of pain, swelling or stiffness in the joint can often be a loss of function in the joint itself. Children can often find ways to compensate and may not display any signs, but if allowed to go untreated, limitations in motion can lead to severe restrictions to movement and physical function.

Connected to the previous point, pain in a joint can lead to a limp if the knee joint is affected. If this occurs, it might indicate a fairly severe case, or it may also indicate something else entirely.


Unlike most arthritis, the disease is actually affecting the patient while he or she is young, it can have a major effect on growth.  If left untreated, arthritis can cause the child’s joints to grow in a pathological, asymmetrical way. This will cause the affected extremities to be malformed.

Beyond malformation, children with the disease often grow more slowly. In addition, afffected joints may grow much more slowly or quickly, causing one arm or leg to be longer than the other.

Nervous symptoms

Again, because this disease is, in fact, an autoimmune disease, it can also manifest in unexpected ways. The most prominent of these is through inflammation or irritation of the eye. The eye may display redness or sensitivity to light. Unfortunately, there are many cases where eye inflammation doesn’t display any symptoms at all.

Aches in the muscles, or myalgia, can be caused by arthritis. This will be similar to the full-body ache that a case of the flu brings with it. The ache generally affects the whole body, and not an isolated part.

Other symptoms

The disease can cause a faint, pinkish rash to appear and disappear without any apparent reason. This can also manifest as a psoriasis rash in children with the psoriatic form of arthritis.

Juvenile arthritis can also cause unexplained, severe fevers. These can “spike” as often as several times a day. In this way, the disease can feel like the flu in another way.

The terminology is inaccurate since lymph nodes aren’t glands, but arthritis can often cause “swollen glands.” What is, in fact, happening is that the lymph nodes are swollen. The lymph nodes are actually very small nodules of tissue that are part of the immune system. They normally can’t be felt through the skin, so if they can be felt at all, there’s a pretty good chance that they are swollen. When swollen they will also often be sensitive to touch. While there are lymph nodes throughout the body, the ones that most often noticed are under the neck or jaw, just above the collarbone, in the armpits or in the groin.

Finally, the condition can also cause weight loss. This can be a direct result of the disease, or it may be a side effect. Because of other symptoms, the child may simply not want to eat, which will naturally result in weight loss. However, the disease is also capable of attacking the digestive tract, and weight loss in conjunction with diarrhea suggests inflammation of the digestive tract.

As you can see, there is no shortage of signs of juvenile arthritis. However, many of them are also signs of other diseases. In addition, because of the patient’s age, arthritis may not be seen as an important possibility. None of this is meant to cause undue fear when parents see these symptoms. Parents simply need to be aware that arthritis is, in fact, a possibility.

Further Reading

Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis(Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis). by William C. Shiel Jr. Emedicine.

Understanding Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis — the Basics.


Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis. MedlinePlus.

Juvenile Arthritis. Arthritis Foundation.–arthritis

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