7 Subtypes of Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis

Classifications Evolve Over Time

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When I first started writing about arthritis in 1997, there were three types of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (also simply called JRA or juvenile arthritis in the U.S.) which were recognized. The European League Against Rheumatism referred to JRA as juvenile chronic arthritis. The three types of JRA were pauciarticular, polyarticular, and systemic.

The International League of Associations for Rheumatology (ILAR) divided juvenile arthritis into more subtypes.

This was done primarily for research purposes and will continue to evolve as more is learned about genetics and the pathogenesis of juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA). The most recent revision by ILAR was presented in 2001.

Polyarthritis RF negative (affects 10-30% of children with JIA)

Children with polyarthritis-rheumatoid factor negative have arthritis affecting 5 or more joints in the first 6 months of disease. Rheumatoid factor tests are negative.

Polyarthritis RF positive (affects 5-10% of children with JIA)

Children with polyarthritis-rheumatoid factor positive have arthritis affecting 5 or more joints in the first 6 months of disease. Two tests for rheumatoid factor, taken three months apart, are positive.

Oligoarthritis (affects 30-60% of children with JIA)

Children with oligoarthritis have arthritis affecting one to 4 joints within the first 6 months of disease. More than four joints may be involved after the first 6 months.

If the child has 4 or fewer joints affected throughout the course of the disease, it is called persistent oligoarthritis. If the child has more than 4 joints affected after the first 6 months, it is called extended oligoarthritis.

Systemic arthritis (affects 10% of children with JIA)

Children with systemic arthritis have arthritis symptoms, with fever lasting two weeks or more, spiking for 3 days or more, along with one of the following symptoms:

  • Enlargement of lymph nodes
  • Enlargement of liver or spleen (hepatomegaly or spenomegaly)
  • Inflammation of the lining of the heart or lungs (pericarditis or pleuritis)
  • Rash (non-itchy) of variable duration that may move to different parts of the body

Psoriatic arthritis (affects 2-15% of children with JIA)

Children classified with the psoriatic arthritis subtype have both arthritis and psoriasis, or they are affected by arthritis and two of the following symptoms:

  • Dactylitis (sausage fingers or toes)
  • Nail pitting/splitting
  • A first-degree relative with psoriasis 

Enthesitis-related arthritis (affects 20% of children with JIA)

Children with the enthesitis-related arthritis subtype have arthritis and inflammation at an enthesitis site (where a ligament, tendon, or joint capsule attach to bone) or have either arthritis or enthesitis along with two or more of the following:

  • Inflammation of sacroiliac joints or pain and stiffness in the lumbosacral region
  • Positive test for HLA-B27
  • Arthritis onset in males older than 6 years of age

Undifferentiated arthritis

This category pertains to children with arthritis symptoms who do not fit any of the other 6 categories or they meet the criteria of two or more categories.

The Bottom Line

Ideally, it is best to consult with a pediatric rheumatologist to diagnose the disease and determine the subtype. Proper treatment depends on an accurate diagnosis. There is a shortage of pediatric rheumatologists -- some states in the U.S. have none. 


Kelley’s Textbook of Rheumatology. Ninth edition. Volume II.
Published by Elsevier Saunders. Chapter 107. Treatment of Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis. Hsu, Lee, and Sandborg.

Arthritis in Children. American College of Rheumatology. Leslie S. Abramson MD. May 2013.

Juvenile Arthritis. August 2013. NIH/NIAMS.

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