Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis: Adult Treatments That May Be Used in Children

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Topic Overview

Children who have severe and persistent juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA), during or even after treatment, may be considered for therapies that have been proved to be safe and effective for adult rheumatoid arthritis or other autoimmune disease but have yet to be fully studied for juvenile idiopathic arthritis. Examples of such therapies include:

  • Cyclosporine A. This is a cytotoxic medicine, which destroys certain cells. Cyclosporine A has been used extensively in people who have had organ transplants to prevent their bodies from rejecting the transplanted organ. Cyclosporine is not often used to treat children with JIA. footnote 1 It may be used to treat inflammatory eye disease, which is sometimes caused by JIA. footnote 2 The most common side effects are kidney damage, tremors, headache, high blood pressure, and excessive hair growth.
  • Azathioprine (Azasan or Imuran). This cytotoxic medicine has been used to treat very few children with JIA. In a small study, some children also receiving nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) and corticosteroid treatment showed a small improvement in symptoms, compared with those who received NSAID, corticosteroid, and placebo treatment. footnote 1 Because little is known about risks of treatment and because its effectiveness is not well established, azathioprine should only be used for life-threatening illness that has not responded to other therapies.
  • Intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIG). This therapy has been helpful in the treatment of some immune system diseases. Small studies of IVIG have shown no effect in treating systemic JIA but some short-term effectiveness in treating 75 out of 100 children with polyarticular JIA . But this therapy is very costly and carries some risks, so it is not considered a practical treatment option for most children. footnote 1
  • Leflunomide (Arava). This medicine blocks production of white blood cells, which are needed to cause inflammation in the joints, and thus interferes with disease progression. Studies show leflunomide to be effective in treating adults with rheumatoid arthritis. footnote 1 Leflunomide's side effects include diarrhea, liver inflammation, rash, and hair loss. Side effects will probably continue to limit leflunomide's use for JIA.

Related Information



  1. Giannini EH, Brunner HI (2005). Treatment of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis. In WJ Koopman, LW Moreland, eds., Arthritis and Allied Conditions, 15th ed., vol. 1, pp. 1301-1318. Philadelphia: Lippincott Williams and Wilkins.
  2. Weiss JR, Ilowite NT (2005). Juvenile idiopathic arthritis. Pediatric Clinics of North America, 52(2): 413-442.


ByHealthwise Staff

Primary Medical Reviewer Susan C. Kim, MD - Pediatrics

Martin J. Gabica, MD - Family Medicine

E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine

Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine

Specialist Medical Reviewer John Pope, MD, MPH - Pediatrics

Current as ofOctober 10, 2017