Children with Arthritis

How did my child get this disease?

The causes of arthritis in children are unknown. Research suggests that for some types of JIA, genetics may be involved. However, these conditions are not regarded as hereditary. So if you have one child with arthritis, it does not mean that you other children will also have arthritis. It also does not mean your child’s children will develop JIA.

Another theory is that some form of infection may trigger the start of JIA. Dietary and emotional factors do not appear to play a role in the development of JIA. JIA cannot spread from one child to another, it is not infectious.

While the most common arthritis diagnosis in children may be a type of JIA, other types of arthritis also occur in both children and young people. About 20% of people with Lupus are diagnosed under the age of 20 years. Rheumatoid Arthritis can start at any age though it is most common over the age of 25.

Arthritis in children and young people is an autoimmune illness

While the cause is still unknown, there is nothing you could have done to prevent it.

What we know is that JIA is an autoimmune illness where, for unknown reasons, the immune system becomes confused and attacks normal healthy cells in the body rather than invading foreign bodies such as bacteria or viruses.

The cells that the immune system attacks (called connective tissue) are those that make up the lining of the joints (synovium).

As these types of cells exist outside of the joints, JIA can affect other parts of the body as well.


There is no single test to diagnose JIA.  Instead, it involves a number of steps including:

  • taking a detailed medical history of the child and their biologically-related family members (where possible)
  • physical examinations
  • laboratory tests (e.g. blood and urine)
  • other tests such as x-rays of the joints.

Some tests may be ongoing or have to be repeated several times.  This helps the doctor look for changes to your child’s symptoms over a period of time.

If JIA is suspected, you child should be referred to a rheumatologist (ideally a specialist in paediatric arthritis) who can confirm the diagnosis and start treatment.

Reaching a diagnosis can take time and the ‘waiting period’ can be frustrating.  This is understandable, but it is important to keep on with the process until a diagnosis is made.  The rheumatologist can then make sure your child receives the best treatment to manage the symptoms and reduce potential damage caused by JIA.

Remember, if you feel it is needed, you can seek a second opinion be asking your GP for another referral.

For more information, download our JIA brochure.

You can also visit Kids With Arthritis New Zealand, a support group for children with arthritis and their families.

Letter for Teachers

Download this letter that parents can give to a teacher when their child is diagnosed/starts school.

Open the door Series

Series 12 of Open Door is now online for viewing

Your Stories

Watch these powerful stories of children with arthritis.

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