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What is juvenile idiopathic arthritis?

Juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA) is the name given to a number of types of arthritis that occur in children.

The name comes from:
Juvenile: referring to children under the age of sixteen years.
Idiopathic: meaning it has no known cause.
Arthritis: conditions that cause joint inflammation and pain.

What are the main symptoms of JIA?

• joint pain, swelling, tenderness, stiffness, redness and warmth
• fatigue (tiredness and lack of energy), fevers, loss of appetite or weight, and generally feeling unwell
• skin rashes
• inflammation of the eyes (uveitis) and other organs of the body in some forms of the disease.

What causes JIA?

The causes of arthritis in children are not yet fully understood. Research suggests that in some types of JIA genetics may be involved. However, these conditions are not regarded as hereditary (passed from parent to child). If you have one child with JIA, it does not mean that your other children will also develop the condition. Genetics are only one part of the puzzle and researchers continue to look for other factors.

Climate, diet or emotional factors do not appear to play a role in the development of arthritis in children. We do know that JIA is an autoimmune condition. This means the body’s immune system (its protective mechanism against infection) starts to mistakenly attack healthy cells of the body. This happens for reasons we don’t yet understand, possibly after being triggered by a virus or bacterial infection.

The immune system fails to ‘turn off’ when the infection has been cleared producing ongoing joint inflammation called JIA. The immune system mistakenly attacks cells in the connective tissues, including the lining of the joints (synovium). JIA can also affect connective tissues in other parts of the body.

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