When Children’s Immune Systems Misbehave: Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis

Many people believe that arthritis is a disease that generally only affects the elderly. While this is generally true of osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis is a variety of arthritis where the immune system works improperly and harms the joints in the body. Unlike osteoarthritis, this disease can strike children as well. This guide will explain what juvenile rheumatoid arthritis is, what the symptoms are, who's the most vulnerable and what you should do if you suspect your child is affected.


Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, also known as JRA, is the most common variety of arthritis in children. JRA can affect children at any age, and it may start suddenly and without any warning signs.

JRA happens when a child's immune system goes out of control: instead of only attacking viruses and bacteria to fight off illnesses, it also attacks healthy cells of the body that are supposed to be there. In JRA, the joints of the body become the target of the immune system, and the tissue, cartilage, bone and muscle within them is broken down.


Children with JRA won't understand why they're hurting, and if all of their joints are affected, it may be difficult for a parent to pinpoint what's wrong. Knowing the symptoms of JRA can help you to pin down what's wrong with your child and reduce the pain they're in.

Symptoms of JRA include:

  • Pain - Your child may complain of pain in their arms, legs, neck or back. The pain may be worse when they get up in the morning, or go to bed at night.
  • Stiffness - Inflammation in the joints may cause stiffness, which could make your child stumble, limp, or unwilling to participate in physical activities.
  • Visible Swelling - When inflammation is uncontrolled, the joints may become visibly swollen, red, and painful to the touch. 

Risk Factors

Children who have parents or direct relatives with autoimmune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease or lupus may be more likely to get JRA. Scientists are unsure why children develop JRA, but there may be a genetic component that's passed down from the parent to the child.

What To Do

If you suspect that your child may have, or is at risk of having JRA, immediately take them to a pediatrician. Their doctor will physically examine them for joint inflammation, and can run blood tests to determine if their bodies have the antigens associated with JRA.

There is no cure for JRA, but most children will outgrow it before they reach adulthood. In the meantime, their doctor will determine treatment for them, which may include anti-inflammatory pain killers, steroids, or anti-rheumatic medications to control the immune system, depending on the severity of symptoms and the number of joints affected.

Developing juvenile rheumatoid arthritis isn't the end of the world for a child, but they'll definitely need professional medical attention to control and monitor their symptoms. Getting treatment can help to reduce pain and slow or stop joint damage, so don't hesitate if your child shows symptoms of JRA.