Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis (JIA, Arthritis in Childhood, Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis, JRA, Juvenile Chronic Arthritis)

  • Medical Author:
    John Mersch, MD, FAAP

    Dr. Mersch received his Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of California, San Diego, and prior to entering the University Of Southern California School Of Medicine, was a graduate student (attaining PhD candidate status) in Experimental Pathology at USC. He attended internship and residency at Children's Hospital Los Angeles.

  • Medical Editor: William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

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What are complications of juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA)/juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (JRA)?

Perhaps the most insidious and most devastating complication of JIA is a form of eye inflammation of the iris of the eye called iritis. The risk for iritis is variable depending upon the subtype of JIA. The highest risk group is oligoarticular JIA while patients with systemic onset JIA are at a low risk of this complication. It is imperative that all JIA patients have thorough ophthalmologic examinations in order to detect any changes that would herald the onset of iritis.

Another common complication of JIA is growth disturbances (such as a difference in leg lengths). Interestingly, the involved joint (such as the knee) has an increase in blood flow due to the inflammatory nature of the local arthritis. This increase in blood flow encourages the area of bone growth (growth plate) to maximum activity and thus the involved leg is longer than the non-involved limb. However, as the disease progresses, the chronic nature of arthritis can damage the growth plate region causing premature fusion and thus the involved leg will be retarded relative to the uninvolved limb. Many patients experience moderate pain of the joints involved resulting in limited use of the region. As a result, loss of calcium from the bone can result in osteoporosis.

These children and their parents may also fall victim to emotional stress associated with any chronic illness. Long-term low-grade pain may stimulate a sense of helplessness and hopelessness and thus depression. Children often have a limited social life (especially with their peers) due to school absenteeism.

It must also be remembered that the medical therapies commonly used to treat JIA can have many have prominent side effects (see above).

What is the prognosis of juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA)/juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (JRA)?

Approximately 50% of children with JIA continue to have active disease into adulthood. In patients who have active disease into adulthood, there can be significant disability with functional limitations. Outcome may reflect duration of disease, presence of polyarticular involvement, and the need for systemic steroids. In the United States and Canada, death is rare (29 out of 10,000 patients) and is most likely with systemic onset JIA.


Espinoza, M., and B. Gottlieb. "Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis." Pediatrics in Review 33 (2012): 303.

John, Janice, and Latha Chandran. "Arthritis in Children & Adolescents." Pediatrics in Review 32 (2011): 470-480.

Lehman, T. "Classification of Juvenile Arthritis." UpToDate.com. Sept. 4, 2012.

Prakken, B., S. Albani, and A. Martini. "Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis." Lancet 337 (2001): 2138.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 8/4/2015

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