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Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis

Discover the lesser-known truths about Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis, its impact on young lives, and the groundbreaking treatments that offer hope for a brighter future.

USMLE Guide: Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis


Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis (JIA), previously known as Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis, is a chronic inflammatory disease affecting children under the age of 16. It is the most common form of arthritis in children and can lead to significant disability if not properly managed. This USMLE guide provides an overview of JIA, including its classification, clinical presentation, diagnosis, and treatment.


JIA can be classified into several subtypes based on clinical features, laboratory findings, and disease course. The International League of Associations for Rheumatology (ILAR) classification system is commonly used and includes the following subtypes:

  1. Systemic JIA (formerly called Still's disease): Characterized by daily spiking fevers, rash, arthritis, and systemic manifestations such as lymphadenopathy and hepatosplenomegaly.
  2. Oligoarticular JIA: Involves fewer than five joints during the first six months of disease onset. It can be further divided into persistent or extended, depending on the number of affected joints.
  3. Rheumatoid factor (RF)-negative polyarticular JIA: Affects five or more joints during the first six months, with negative RF test results.
  4. RF-positive polyarticular JIA: Similar to RF-negative polyarticular JIA, but with positive RF test results.
  5. Psoriatic JIA: Presents with both arthritis and psoriasis, or arthritis plus at least two of the following: dactylitis, nail pitting, or a family history of psoriasis.
  6. Enthesitis-related JIA: Involves arthritis and enthesitis (inflammation at the sites of tendon or ligament insertion into bone), often associated with HLA-B27 positivity.

Clinical Presentation

The clinical presentation of JIA varies depending on the subtype but commonly includes joint pain, swelling, stiffness, and limited range of motion. Extra-articular manifestations may be present in certain subtypes, such as fever, rash, uveitis, or systemic symptoms.


The diagnosis of JIA is primarily clinical and relies on the presence of persistent arthritis for at least six weeks in a child under the age of 16, after excluding other causes of joint inflammation. Laboratory investigations, including complete blood count, erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR), C-reactive protein (CRP), and rheumatoid factor (RF) are useful to support the diagnosis and monitor disease activity. Imaging studies, such as X-rays or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), may be performed to assess joint damage or detect complications like joint effusion or erosions.


The management of JIA aims to control pain, inflammation, and preserve joint function, while minimizing the risk of long-term complications. Treatment strategies include:

  1. Non-pharmacological interventions: Physical and occupational therapy, splinting, and regular exercise to improve joint mobility and muscle strength.
  2. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): Used to alleviate pain and reduce inflammation in mild cases. Examples include ibuprofen and naproxen.
  3. Disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs): Methotrexate is commonly prescribed as a first-line DMARD for JIA, especially in polyarticular and systemic subtypes.
  4. Biologic agents: Tumor necrosis factor (TNF) inhibitors, such as etanercept and adalimumab, have shown efficacy in severe or refractory cases of JIA.
  5. Intra-articular corticosteroid injections: Used for localized joint inflammation and can provide rapid relief.
  6. Ophthalmologic screening: Regular eye examinations to detect and manage uveitis, a common complication of JIA.


The prognosis of JIA varies depending on the subtype, disease activity, and early initiation of appropriate treatment. With advancements in therapy, many children with JIA achieve remission or minimal disease activity, allowing them to lead productive lives. However, complications like joint deformities, growth disturbances, and uveitis may occur if the disease is not properly managed.


Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis is a chronic inflammatory disease affecting children and can cause significant morbidity if not promptly diagnosed and effectively managed. Familiarity with the classification, clinical presentation, diagnosis, and treatment options is essential for physicians to provide optimal care for children with JIA.

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