Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis: Different From Adult Rheumatoid Arthritis

Juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA) causes painful joint inflammation throughout your body—including the joints in your spine. Because JIA was previously known as juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (JRA), many people assume JIA is simply a child version of adult rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Though JIA and adult RA are both forms of inflammatory arthritis, these conditions are distinct.
Mother and daughter hand in hand walking on the beach.Unlike rheumatoid arthritis in an adult, JIA may affect bone development as well as a child's growth. Photo Source: 123RF.com.

How Are Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis and Adult Rheumatoid Arthritis Different?

Four common differences between JIA and adult RA include:

  1. JIA is a group of chronic arthritis disorders affecting children (you can read about the different types of JIA here). On the other hand, RA is a single condition.
  2. Many people with JIA find that symptoms subside as they age, while adults usually have life-long RA symptoms. Proper treatment helps 50-70% of children with JIA experience periods of remission (no symptoms) and no disability.1
  3. JIA may affect a child’s bone development and overall growth, whereas RA does not affect growth and development because the disease impacts adults.
  4. It’s much more common for people with RA to have rheumatoid factor, or RF, a harmful antibody triggered by the body’s immune system. While about 80% of people with RA have high levels of RF in their blood, fewer than half of all children with juvenile idiopathic arthritis are RF positive.

Rheumatoid Factor: A Bridge Between JIA and RA

While some adults with RA test negative for RF, most people with RA test positive for this disease marker. In kids, the presence of RF indicates an increased chance that JIA will continue into adulthood. Children with JIA who test positive for RF have the second most common type of JIA—known as polyarticular JIA.

Polyarticular JIA is the form of JIA that is most closely linked to adult RA, and it is categorized into 2 subtypes: RF positive and RF negative. A blood test ordered as part of the JIA diagnostic process can confirm the presence of RF. If the test confirms an RF positive result, the child may have early-onset adult RA. This is quite rare, though, occurring in about 5% of all JIA diagnoses.2

JIA Differs from RA, But They Share Treatments

JIA and adult RA are distinct types of spinal inflammatory arthritis, but doctors often rely on a similar treatment philosophy for both. This approach often combines medication with lifestyle modifications focused on improving spinal strength, flexibility, and joint mobility.

If you’re experiencing back and neck joint pain, your doctor may start with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (eg, naproxen) and corticosteroids to help control inflammation.

While those medications help manage symptoms, they don’t affect the actual disease. To prevent arthritis from getting worse, your doctor may prescribe special drugs to slow or stop the progression of JIA, including disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) and Anti-TNF (tumor necrosis factor).

Along with medication, your doctor may refer you to a physical therapist to teach you ways to safely stretch, strengthen, and increase mobility in your spine. These exercises will help your joints feel and function better.

Your physical therapist may also teach you healthy posture techniques to keep your spine in proper alignment and ease back and neck pain. Learning the basics of proper posture also sets a solid foundation for a lifetime of healthy habits and pain prevention.

You can read more about what to expect from treatment in Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis Treatment.

Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis and Rheumatoid Arthritis: Similar But Different

Though JIA and adult RA are both types of inflammatory arthritis, JIA is much more than a kid-sized version of adult RA. Rheumatoid arthritis is a debilitating disease with life-long symptoms, but that isn’t always the case for children affected by juvenile idiopathic arthritis. If you have painful, swollen joints or spine pain, don’t hesitate to talk to your doctor about what’s behind it. Early treatment can help slow the disease’s progression and make remission a real possibility.

Updated on: 07/23/19
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Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis: Potential Causes and Diagnosis
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Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis: Potential Causes and Diagnosis

What is known about JIA is that it is a group of autoimmune disorders and that at least 2 factors are believed to be involved in the development of these diseases.
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