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Systemic juvenile idiopathic arthritis: Treatment
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Systemic juvenile idiopathic arthritis: Treatment
All topics are updated as new evidence becomes available and our peer review process is complete.
Literature review current through: Nov 2016. | This topic last updated: Aug 15, 2016.

INTRODUCTION — Systemic juvenile idiopathic arthritis (sJIA, formerly called Still's disease or systemic-onset juvenile rheumatoid arthritis) is a subset of JIA. Adult-onset Still's disease (AOSD) is probably the same or similar disease when it begins in patients ≥16 years of age. sJIA is classified as a subset of JIA, but the pathophysiology is most consistent with an autoinflammatory disorder. (See "Classification of juvenile arthritis", section on 'Systemic arthritis'.)

The treatment options for sJIA are discussed in this review. The clinical manifestations, diagnosis, complications, and prognosis of sJIA are discussed separately, as are other subtypes of JIA. (See "Systemic juvenile idiopathic arthritis: Clinical manifestations and diagnosis" and "Systemic juvenile idiopathic arthritis: Course, prognosis, and complications" and "Oligoarticular juvenile idiopathic arthritis" and "Polyarticular juvenile idiopathic arthritis: Clinical manifestations, diagnosis, and complications" and "Classification of juvenile arthritis".)

OVERVIEW — Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) alone are effective for some children with sJIA [1]. Glucocorticoids along with the disease-modifying antirheumatic drug (DMARD), methotrexate, were traditionally used in patients who failed NSAID therapy. However, glucocorticoids are a poor long-term therapeutic option because of associated toxicity, and methotrexate often does not change the aggressive and often permanently disabling consequences of unremitting disease. Biologic DMARDs, such as interleukin (IL)-1 or IL-6 inhibitors, were initially reserved for patients refractory to conventional therapy (NSAIDs followed by the addition of glucocorticoids with or without methotrexate). However, they are increasingly the agent of choice after failure of NSAID therapy in patients with a confirmed diagnosis of sJIA since they are highly effective.

Treatment guidelines, based upon presence or absence of active systemic features, clinician global assessment, active joint count, and presence or absence of features concerning for macrophage activation syndrome (MAS), are outlined by the American College of Rheumatology (ACR) [2]. These guidelines emphasize the earlier use of biologics in children with sJIA, although specific information on appropriate dose is lacking. Another set of standardized treatment plans was developed through a consensus process by the Childhood Arthritis and Rheumatology Research Alliance (CARRA) based upon the most commonly used treatment approaches for systemic JIA [3].

OUR APPROACH — Our general approach is reviewed here, and the specific agents are discussed in greater detail below, including dosing and withdrawal of therapy.

Initial therapy — The choice of initial therapy depends upon the severity of the presentation, including whether the patient shows signs of macrophage activation syndrome (MAS). (See "Systemic juvenile idiopathic arthritis: Clinical manifestations and diagnosis", section on 'Clinical manifestations' and "Clinical features and diagnosis of hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis", section on 'Clinical features'.)

Mild-to-moderate disease — We suggest nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) monotherapy as the initial treatment in children with possible sJIA who have mild-to-moderate, nondisabling symptoms on presentation and no evidence of macrophage activation syndrome (MAS). Any NSAID other than aspirin is suitable and is given at standard anti-inflammatory doses. (See 'Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs' below and "Systemic juvenile idiopathic arthritis: Clinical manifestations and diagnosis", section on 'Clinical manifestations' and "Systemic juvenile idiopathic arthritis: Course, prognosis, and complications", section on 'Macrophage activation syndrome'.)

In general, a trial of NSAIDs alone should last no more than a few weeks, since it is usually apparent whether an additional agent is needed within two to four weeks. Additional therapy is indicated in children who develop or continue to have significant symptoms despite use of NSAIDs. The approach for patients who have not responded to a trial of an NSAID alone during the acute phase of the illness is similar to that for patients who present with moderate-to-severe disease. (See 'Moderate-to-severe disease' below.)

Moderate-to-severe disease — For patients whose initial symptoms include high fevers, other systemic manifestations including serositis and possible early MAS, and/or moderate-to-severe polyarthritis, we suggest adding one of the biologic agents that inhibit interleukin (IL)-1 or IL-6, such as anakinra, canakinumab, or tocilizumab, rather than the nonbiologic disease-modifying antirheumatic drug (DMARD), methotrexate. NSAIDs can be continued in conjunction with other agents if needed for pain control. (See 'Interleukin-1 (IL-1) inhibitors' below and 'Interleukin (IL)-6 inhibitors' below.)

Historically, many pediatric rheumatologists have used glucocorticoids in this situation, using methotrexate as a steroid-sparing agent, since glucocorticoids provide rapid onset of action and almost uniform efficacy for severely ill children. However, the biologic agents that block the effects of IL-1 and IL-6 are more effective than nonbiologic DMARDs (eg, methotrexate) and have more favorable side-effect profiles than long-term use of glucocorticoids. (See 'Glucocorticoids' below and 'Methotrexate' below and 'Biologic therapy' below.)

Some patients may still need to be started on glucocorticoids along with an anti-IL-1 or IL-6 agent, depending upon the seriousness or life-threatening nature of the symptoms. In particular, many pediatric rheumatologists would include glucocorticoids as part of initial therapy when early MAS is suspected since monotherapy with anti-IL-1 or IL-6 agents may be insufficient in this setting. Concomitant use of a biologic agent may allow relatively rapid tapering of glucocorticoids. (See 'Refractory disease' below and "Systemic juvenile idiopathic arthritis: Course, prognosis, and complications", section on 'Macrophage activation syndrome'.)

Refractory disease — For patients who were started on a biologic agent as part of the initial therapy, we suggest adding a glucocorticoid within a week if there is continued polyarthritis, fever, and rash. We would add a glucocorticoid sooner if there was evidence of MAS or severe serositis. Both drugs are typically continued until disease control is established. The clinician may then decide to gradually withdraw the glucocorticoid first because of the inevitable toxicity associated with its chronic use. Withdrawal of the biologic agent may be attempted as well if the patient continues to exhibit no sign of disease, since the patient may have monophasic disease [4-6]. Evidence suggests that there is a window of opportunity, and the early use of anti-IL-1 agents may change the course of disease [7,8]. (See 'Glucocorticoids' below and "Glucocorticoid withdrawal" and 'Biologic therapy' below.)

Biologic DMARDs are the preferred choice for patients with refractory acute disease who were treated with an NSAID plus a glucocorticoid with or without methotrexate. Anti-IL-1 and anti-IL-6 agents have shown good efficacy and allowed tapering of glucocorticoids in randomized trials [9,10]. (See 'Mild-to-moderate disease' above and 'Interleukin-1 (IL-1) inhibitors' below and 'Interleukin (IL)-6 inhibitors' below.)

Recurrent disease — Some patients have a polyphasic disease course, with the disease becoming completely quiescent for months or years without treatment, then recurring episodically [5,6]. The approach to treating these recurrent episodes is the same as for initial therapy.

Persistent disease — Patients with persistent disease may have primarily systemic manifestations, primarily arthritis (which can be progressive and destructive), or both. Inhibitors of IL-1 and IL-6 appear to be the most effective of the biologic agents for primarily systemic disease (eg, fever, rash, and serositis) and may be effective for chronic arthritis as well. Although inhibitors of tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-alpha and blockers of T-cell costimulation (abatacept) are not recommended for initial therapy or systemic disease, these agents, as well as methotrexate, can be helpful adjuncts for chronic arthritis therapy [2,11]. Other nonbiologic DMARDs, such as cyclosporine and tacrolimus, and cytotoxic drugs, such as cyclophosphamide, are options in patients who fail standard therapy, including biologic agents. (See 'Cyclosporine' below and 'Cytotoxic drugs' below.)

REFERRAL — Patients who present with severe sJIA or who do not respond to nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) monotherapy should be referred to an experienced pediatric rheumatologist for management, if possible.

THERAPEUTIC AGENTS — The agents used to treat sJIA include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), glucocorticoids, and the biologic and nonbiologic disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs).

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs — All of the traditional NSAIDs, and at least one of the cyclooxygenase (COX)-2-selective NSAIDs, have been used for treating JIA [12,13]. Although the traditional NSAID of first choice was aspirin, it is no longer commonly used because of dosing and toxicity issues, which warrant frequent salicylate level and liver function test monitoring. None of these NSAIDs have shown any unique advantages for children with sJIA, except possibly for indomethacin, which is anecdotally effective for control of recalcitrant fever.

If NSAID therapy alone is effective in controlling all of the sJIA manifestations, a trial of gradually tapering the NSAID can be attempted after a period of several months of disease quiescence to see if the patient has gone into remission.

Use of any of the NSAIDs is associated with a risk of hepatotoxicity, often manifested by hepatic enzyme elevation. Rare cases of disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC) have been reported [14], but these findings may have been secondary to subclinical macrophage activation syndrome (MAS), which was not a recognized entity of sJIA at the time of those reports. NSAIDs are also associated with renal toxicity, usually manifested as tubular interstitial disease with microscopic urine analysis changes, although patients can also develop edema, papillary necrosis, and hypertension. (See "Treatment and prognosis of hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis" and "Nonselective NSAIDs: Overview of adverse effects".)

Glucocorticoids — There are no randomized trials of glucocorticoids for the treatment of sJIA, although the Childhood Arthritis and Rheumatology Research Alliance (CARRA) consensus treatment plans and the 2013 American College of Rheumatology (ACR) guidelines offers general guidelines [2,3]. Glucocorticoids should be used judiciously in sJIA to minimize their toxicity. They are typically used during the acute phase of the illness to preserve the ability to carry out activities of daily living, particularly in children who have not responded quickly to initial therapy. (See 'Refractory disease' above and "Major side effects of systemic glucocorticoids".)

Every effort must be made to minimize the dose and duration of therapy. Whenever possible, the dose of glucocorticoids should be kept below 0.5 mg/kg per day of prednisone (or its equivalent), and the duration of therapy should be less than six months. A disease-modifying agent more appropriate for long-term management (eg, a biologic agent or methotrexate) should be initiated soon after the child is stabilized in order to facilitate the timely withdrawal of glucocorticoids. (See 'Methotrexate' below and 'Interleukin-1 (IL-1) inhibitors' below and 'Interleukin (IL)-6 inhibitors' below.)

Some clinicians use intermittent high-dose intravenous glucocorticoids to reduce the toxicity associated with daily oral glucocorticoids or to treat severe anemia or pericarditis. The combination of glucocorticoids and NSAIDs can result in an increased risk of gastrointestinal toxicity due to their additive effect [15].

Biologic therapy — sJIA is associated with increased circulating levels of multiple cytokines [16,17]. Experimental evidence supports the use of monoclonal antibodies or soluble receptors to block inflammatory cytokines in patients with sJIA [18-25]. Of these, the most efficacious biologic agents, based upon results from randomized trials, are those that block IL-1 or IL-6. Many pediatric rheumatologists use one of these agents, rather than a glucocorticoid, in patients who have failed NSAID monotherapy. (See "Overview of biologic agents and kinase inhibitors in the rheumatic diseases".)

Patients receiving biologic response modifiers have an increased risk of infection, particularly mycobacterial, viral, and fungal infections. Thus, the American Academy of Pediatrics has published guidance for clinicians using these agents [26]. A thorough history is recommended to help determine infectious risk, with performance of screening tests as indicated depending upon the history and biologic agent chosen. If treatment can be safely delayed, administration of routine immunizations at least two weeks prior to starting a biologic agent is advised for inactivated or subunit vaccines and at least four weeks prior for live vaccines. Unfortunately, delaying treatment while awaiting vaccination is not feasible or safe for many children presenting with active sJIA. Administration of live vaccines is not recommended during treatment with biologic agents. An infectious disease specialist should be consulted if a live vaccine is deemed necessary while a patient is on biologic therapy. Inactivated and subunit vaccines can be given while on therapy, and an annual inactivated influenza vaccine is recommended.

There are little published data regarding withdrawal of biologic agents in children with sJIA, and no guidelines exist, although tapering and withdrawal was successful in some patients who achieved inactive disease in the tocilizumab clinical trial [27] and in an observational series of patients treated with anakinra at disease onset [4]. Most pediatric rheumatologists gradually increase the dosing interval until they feel it is safe to stop therapy in children who appear to be in remission (on drug) for six months.

The appropriate role of the various biologic agents, especially the IL-6 and IL-1 inhibitors, in the treatment of children with sJIA should become clearer as pediatric rheumatologists gain experience with these agents and their comparative effectiveness is studied [3]. These biologics are effective for most children with this disease, but further study is needed regarding which should be given in what situation and for what patient.

Interleukin-1 (IL-1) inhibitors — IL-1 is one of the predominant proinflammatory cytokines underlying the inflammatory symptoms of sJIA. Thus, IL-1 inhibitors such as anakinra (recombinant IL-1 receptor antagonist), rilonacept (IL-1 trap) [28], and canakinumab (anti-IL-1-beta monoclonal antibody) are beneficial in many children with sJIA. The IL-1 inhibitors, anakinra, rilonacept, and canakinumab, are administered by subcutaneous injection. Canakinumab is administered monthly and rilonacept weekly, whereas anakinra is administered daily. However, the anakinra dose can be adjusted more readily or withdrawn more quickly if the patient does not respond, because of its short half-life. This is a potential advantage, especially early on in the course, when the disease is often unstable.

Anakinra — The central role of IL-1 in sJIA and the clinical outcome of treatment with anakinra were documented in an early study of nine patients with sJIA resistant to other therapies [29]. The following findings were noted:

Serum from patients with sJIA upregulated the expression of genes from the IL-1 cytokine/cytokine receptor family and induced high levels of IL-1-beta production in peripheral blood mononuclear cells from healthy children.

All nine patients became afebrile within the first week of anakinra therapy.

Eight patients had active arthritis at the start of therapy. After two months of therapy, six had complete resolution, and two had improvement in symptoms.

All nine patients had normalization of elevated leukocyte and platelet counts, and eight of the nine patients had normalization of an elevated erythrocyte sedimentation rate after two months of therapy.

Subsequent series have demonstrated that IL-1 inhibition with anakinra is effective, although not uniformly so, in patients with both recent and established disease [4,7,19,21,30-33].

Anakinra may be more effective if used early in the disease course, rather than as "rescue" therapy once other therapies have failed. One international group gathered 46 patients who had received anakinra as part of initial therapy for sJIA, including 10 treated with anakinra without glucocorticoids or other DMARDs [7]. Many patients were able to avoid glucocorticoid therapy altogether, and chronic arthritis did not develop in almost 90 percent of these patients followed for more than six months (compared with 30 to 50 percent among historical controls). Results from a subsequent prospective case series are consistent with the previous study [4,34].

The optimal dosing of anakinra remains undefined. In one series, over 40 percent of children treated with less than 1.5 mg/kg/day required dose escalation [7]. In addition, a pharmacokinetic study done in sJIA suggested that doses between 2 to 4 mg/kg were necessary in most children with sJIA [35]. This suggests that 2 mg/kg/day is a reasonable starting dose, although some rheumatologists favor higher doses in younger children who may have different drug pharmacokinetics [3,7,33,35,36]. Subsequent dose escalation to 4 mg/kg/day or higher is necessary in some patients [3,37]. Although anakinra is the first biologic of choice for many pediatric rheumatologists treating children with sJIA, it has not been studied in a registration study and so does not have US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval.

Canakinumab — Results from two randomized trials, in addition to observational data, indicate that canakinumab (an anti-IL-1 beta monoclonal antibody) is an effective therapeutic option for patients with sJIA [9,38,39]. Canakinumab was approved by the US FDA for use in sJIA patients in 2013.

In the first trial, 84 children aged 2 to 19 years with active sJIA including both fever and arthritis were randomly assigned to a single dose of canakinumab (4 mg/kg subcutaneously) or placebo [9]. Concurrent treatment with another biologic agent was not allowed, but patients on background therapy of glucocorticoids, NSAIDs, and/or methotrexate were allowed to enroll. There was a significant difference in the percent of patients with an adapted JIA ACR 30 response between the canakinumab group and the placebo group (84 versus 10 percent, respectively). Two serious adverse events were reported in each group (MAS and varicella in the canakinumab group and MAS and gastroenteritis in the placebo group).

The second trial included patients from the first trial (canakinumab responders and placebo-group patients) plus additional patients (n = 100 in total) and had an initial open-label phase in which all patients were treated with canakinumab every four weeks for 12 to 32 weeks [9]. In the randomized withdrawal phase, patients who had a sustained adapted JIA ACR 30 response or better and who were not on glucocorticoids or had been tapered to a stable glucocorticoid dose were either continued on canakinumab or placed on placebo. The rate of flares was significantly lower in the canakinumab group compared with the placebo group (26 versus 75 percent, respectively). In addition, inactive disease rates were higher at the end of the withdrawal phase in the canakinumab group, compared with placebo (62 versus 34 percent). Four cases of MAS were reported in the open-label phase and two in the withdrawal phase. Two patients with MAS died, one in the open-label phase and one from the placebo group in the withdrawal phase. There was no difference in the rate of serious adverse events between the two groups in the withdrawal phase.

Rilonacept — Rilonacept (an IL-1 receptor trap fusion protein) is available in the United States for treatment of autoinflammatory disorders, but its use in patients with sJIA remains investigational [40,41].

No significant differences in efficacy, based upon ACR Pediatric 30, 50, and 70 scores, were observed during the blinded phase in an exploratory trial of 24 patients with refractory sJIA randomly assigned 2:1 to rilonacept (2.2 mg/kg in cohort 1 and 4.4 mg/kg in cohort 2, given subcutaneously on days 3, 7, 14, or 21) or placebo [42]. However, fever and rash completely resolved by three months in the 23 patients who received rilonacept during the open-label phase. More than half of these patients maintained their response, and more than 90 percent were able to reduce or discontinue glucocorticoids, although 13 of the 23 patients withdrew from the study during the open-label phase before 24 months.

Additionally, a randomized trial in 71 children with active sJIA that had a four-week initial placebo-controlled phase followed by a 20-week treatment phase for all patients showed that the time to response was shorter in the rilonacept arm compared with the placebo arm. Response at week 4 was 57 percent (20 of 35 patients) in the rilonacept arm compared with 27 percent (9 of 33 patients) in the placebo arm [28]. Rilonacept was given as a loading dose of 4.4 mg/kg followed by 2.2 mg/kg weekly. Treatment was well tolerated.

Interleukin (IL)-6 inhibitors — A human recombinant monoclonal antibody against the IL-6 receptor (tocilizumab) that is administered intravenously is effective in children with severe sJIA that is resistant to conventional therapy [10,20,24,43-46]. Tocilizumab was approved by the FDA for treatment of sJIA in 2011.

In a randomized trial of tocilizumab, 112 children aged 2 to 17 years with active sJIA (arthritis, with or without fevers and other systemic symptoms) of at least six months duration who had failed previous therapy with NSAIDs and glucocorticoids were treated with placebo or tocilizumab (12 mg/kg for children <30 kg or 8 mg/kg for children ≥30 kg) intravenously every two weeks [10]. The following findings were noted:

At 12 weeks, improvement of ACR Pedi 30, 50, and 70 responses were seen in 85, 85, and 71 percent of patients, respectively, in the treatment group, compared with 24, 11, and 8 percent of patients, respectively, in the placebo group.

Adverse events associated with tocilizumab included infections (eg, sinopulmonary infections, septic arthritis, varicella, gastroenteritis), MAS, neutropenia, and elevated liver function tests and cholesterol.

Tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-alpha inhibitors — In general, TNF inhibitors appear to be more beneficial for children with nonsystemic categories of JIA than in those with sJIA [47,48]. This may be due to the autoinflammatory nature of sJIA, with innate immunity playing a larger role than in other types of JIA. Additionally, the fixed doses of etanercept that were used in the studies may be inadequate to inhibit TNF sufficiently to produce a robust response in sJIA. Other TNF inhibitors, such as infliximab, offer a wider range of dosing options, and high doses may be more effective for treating sJIA [49], but they do not appear to be as dramatically effective as the other biologics. (See 'Interleukin-1 (IL-1) inhibitors' above and 'Interleukin (IL)-6 inhibitors' above.)

Several biologic agents that inhibit TNF-alpha activity are available, including the following:

Etanercept, a soluble p75 TNF-alpha receptor fusion protein that binds TNF-alpha, has been widely tested in sJIA. However, it may provide only limited and unpredictable benefits in this disorder [47,48,50-53]. Adding to the uncertainty of the benefit of etanercept, it has been reported both as a cause of [54] and a treatment for [55] MAS in children with sJIA. (See "Treatment and prognosis of hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis" and "Systemic juvenile idiopathic arthritis: Course, prognosis, and complications", section on 'Macrophage activation syndrome'.)

Infliximab and adalimumab, monoclonal antibodies to TNF-alpha, also have been used with varying success in children with sJIA [48]. These agents have been effective in patients who failed to respond to etanercept, although there are limited published data.

Citing concerns about the incidence of lymphoma and other malignancies in children treated with biologic agents, the US FDA performed a safety review of malignancies reported with TNF inhibitor use. They concluded that there may be an increased risk of lymphoma and other cancers associated with the use of these drugs in children and adolescents, but this study was based solely on case reports [56]. A study published subsequently to this review that used a large administrative claims database found that children with JIA have a slightly increased risk of malignancy independent of medication usage and that medications used for JIA, including TNF inhibitors, were not significantly associated with additional malignancy risk [57]. Study of this risk is ongoing in disease-specific pharmacosurveillance registries, which will be able to estimate baseline compared with exposure risks for these adverse events because they will enroll all patients with JIA, regardless of medication exposure [58]. (See "Tumor necrosis factor-alpha inhibitors: Risk of malignancy".)

In addition, there may be an increased risk of reactivation of latent tuberculosis (TB) infections, as well as of fungal infections, with the use of TNF inhibitors. An FDA alert highlighted this potential risk, especially in areas endemic for histoplasmosis, such as the Ohio and Mississippi River valleys [59]. (See 'In patients on any biologic agent' below and "Pathogenesis and clinical features of pulmonary histoplasmosis" and "Pathogenesis and clinical manifestations of disseminated histoplasmosis".)

B-cell-targeted therapy — Rituximab, a B-cell-depleting monoclonal anti-CD20 antibody, has been used for severe, multiple-drug-resistant sJIA with success at the case-report level [60], but has not been used with much frequency. Thus, its effectiveness remains unclear. (See "Rituximab and other B cell targeted therapies for rheumatoid arthritis", section on 'Rituximab'.)

Nonbiologic disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) — The primary nonbiologic DMARD used for the treatment of sJIA is methotrexate.

Methotrexate — Methotrexate has been used in many children with sJIA [3,61], mostly as a steroid-sparing agent, although results from one small, randomized trial showed no difference in overall improvement in the methotrexate group compared with placebo [62]. Its use has decreased since the advent of anti-IL-1 and anti-IL-6 therapies [3].

Hepatic toxicity may occur with methotrexate therapy, but does not seem to be any more frequent than expected with the use of methotrexate in other subtypes of JIA. There are a number of other common toxicities seen with methotrexate therapy and several potential serious adverse effects. These are discussed in greater detail separately. (See "Hepatotoxicity associated with chronic low-dose methotrexate for nonmalignant disease" and "Major side effects of low-dose methotrexate".)

The general range in which methotrexate is prescribed for JIA is an oral dose of up to 25 to 30 mg/m2 (0.5 to 1 mg/kg) per week, with a maximum dose of 25 mg per week. Above 15 to 20 mg/m2 (roughly 0.5 mg/kg), oral absorption is unreliable, and parenteral administration may be advantageous [63]. Oral doses of 1 mg/kg or more may be beneficial in a selected subgroup of patients, but do not improve the response in the majority of cases [64]. Folic acid should be given to minimize the gastrointestinal side effects associated with methotrexate therapy. (See "Polyarticular juvenile idiopathic arthritis: Treatment", section on 'Methotrexate'.)

Thalidomide — Thalidomide is a unique agent that is effective in both suppressing the production of cytokines such as TNF-alpha and IL-6 [22,23] and in blocking angiogenesis [65]. Case reports and small series suggest that thalidomide is an effective medication for children with sJIA [66,67]. With the advent of effective IL-1 and IL-6 inhibitors, however, thalidomide and its derivatives should be reserved for children in whom the biologics are not options due to cost and availability. (See 'Interleukin-1 (IL-1) inhibitors' above and 'Interleukin (IL)-6 inhibitors' above.)

Neuropathy and sedative effects are often dose limiting. This agent is an infamous teratogen, and clinical use is strictly regulated. Effective contraception is a prerequisite for use in girls of childbearing age. Despite these cautions, it has been dramatically effective for some children who have failed other therapies. Thalidomide may be especially important in countries where biologic agents are not available because of cost issues. Revlimid (lenalidomide) is an alternative agent related to thalidomide that may have a lower incidence of side effects, but there are no published trials of its use in sJIA.

Leflunomide — Leflunomide is an isoxazole derivative that has effects on many components of immune and inflammatory responses. In case reports and small series, leflunomide has been used successfully to treat some patients with poor response to, or side effects from, methotrexate [68,69]. However, leflunomide was less effective than methotrexate and had a similar side-effect profile in one head-to-head randomized trial of 94 patients with polyarticular JIA [70]. This agent has not been studied specifically in sJIA.

Cyclosporine — Cyclosporine (as well as tacrolimus, another calcineurin inhibitor) has been used with some frequency in sJIA, mainly in patients with MAS and chronic refractory systemic activity [71,72]. (See "Systemic juvenile idiopathic arthritis: Course, prognosis, and complications" and "Treatment and prognosis of hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis".)

Cytotoxic drugs — Oral and intravenous cyclophosphamide, etoposide, chlorambucil, and azathioprine have been used in the treatment of sJIA with varying success. Cyclophosphamide has been used for a small subset of children with severe refractory sJIA, generally prior to the availability of biologic agents; however, its use was associated with sustained improvement in these patients [73].

Cytotoxic medications are generally reserved for children who have progressive disease despite extensive use of less toxic medications, such as the biologic therapies, particularly the IL-1 and IL-6 inhibitors. They have also been used for complications of sJIA, including MAS, pulmonary hypertension, and interstitial lung disease. Leukopenia, infections, the risk of sterility, and the risk of subsequent neoplastic disease limit their utility [74]. (See "General toxicity of cyclophosphamide in rheumatic diseases" and 'Biologic therapy' above and "Systemic juvenile idiopathic arthritis: Course, prognosis, and complications", section on 'Macrophage activation syndrome'.)

HEMATOPOIETIC CELL TRANSPLANTATION — Hematopoietic cell transplantation (HCT) has been used in children with relentless disease that is uncontrolled despite the use of multiple drugs [75,76]. However, most children were treated with HCT prior to the advent of effective biologic therapies. There is some continued interest in HCT for severe resistant sJIA [75,76], but the procedure still carries a high mortality rate [77]. Thus, HCT should be restricted to only the most severely affected children refractory to other, less risky therapies.

An observational study of autologous stem cell transplantation included 34 children treated at several European centers, 29 of whom had systemic JIA and the others severe polyarticular JIA [78]. At follow-up that ranged from 12 to 60 months, 18 of 34 (53 percent) were in drug-free remission, six improved, and seven had no benefit. Three children died due to macrophage activation syndrome (MAS, secondary hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis [HLH]) that may have been infection related. In a subsequent report that involved many of the same subjects over a median follow-up period of 80 months, two died early in follow-up from MAS, and, of the remaining 20 patients, eight were in drug-free remission, seven were in partial remission, and five had no benefit [79]. Of these latter five patients, two patients died from infection. (See "Treatment and prognosis of hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis".)

ADDITIONAL MANAGEMENT ISSUES

Macrophage activation syndrome — There is an anecdotal association of initiation of any therapy in sJIA, including nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), with a transiently elevated risk of life-threatening macrophage activation syndrome (MAS), a form of hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis (HLH). Accordingly, careful monitoring for MAS after initiation of any therapy for sJIA is essential. Patients with sJIA are predisposed to developing MAS and may display features of MAS throughout their disease course, with some patients having evidence of "chronic MAS" that is refractory to treatment and carries a poor prognosis. Diagnosis and treatment of MAS are discussed in greater detail separately. (See "Systemic juvenile idiopathic arthritis: Course, prognosis, and complications", section on 'Macrophage activation syndrome' and "Clinical features and diagnosis of hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis", section on 'Clinical features' and "Treatment and prognosis of hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis", section on 'MAS/rheumatologic conditions'.)

Other complications — Management of other complications (eg, growth retardation, osteoporosis, iron-deficiency anemia) is discussed in detail separately. (See "Systemic juvenile idiopathic arthritis: Course, prognosis, and complications", section on 'Complications' and "Systemic juvenile idiopathic arthritis: Clinical manifestations and diagnosis", section on 'Laboratory findings'.)

Screening/monitoring — Monitoring or screening studies are required for several of the therapies used to treat sJIA. Patients with sJIA can be quite unstable, especially during the first few months of disease, and need frequent monitoring of systemic disease activity and potential MAS, aside from what is required because of specific medication toxicities. All sJIA patients should have at least the following blood tests done regularly: complete blood count, aspartate transaminase (AST), alanine transaminase (ALT), erythrocyte sedimentation rate (ESR), C-reactive protein (CRP), and ferritin.

In patients on nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) — Careful monitoring for hepatic and renal toxicity is required if NSAIDs are used. This includes complete blood counts, renal and liver function tests, and urine analyses within several weeks of starting the medication and then every three to four months that the patient remains on a stable dose. (See 'Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs' above and "Nonselective NSAIDs: Overview of adverse effects".)

In patients on any biologic agent — Use of biologic therapy, particularly the tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-alpha inhibitors, is associated with reactivation of latent tuberculosis (TB) infection. Thus, screening for TB is recommended prior to starting a biologic agent. Annual rescreening is not necessary in low-risk children [2]. However, repeat screening is advised if the risk of TB increases to moderate or high (form 1). (See "Tumor necrosis factor-alpha inhibitors and mycobacterial infections" and "Latent tuberculosis infection in children", section on 'Diagnosis'.)

In patients on tocilizumab — Recommended laboratory monitoring in patients on tocilizumab, a human recombinant monoclonal antibody against the interleukin (IL)-6 receptor, includes neutrophil and platelet counts, liver enzyme (AST/ALT) levels, and lipid levels at least monthly until stable, and then every three months (six months for lipid levels). (See 'Interleukin (IL)-6 inhibitors' above.)

In patients on tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-alpha inhibitors — Patients on TNF-alpha inhibitors are at increased risk for fungal infections, as well as dissemination of TB. Patients should be screened for TB exposure prior to receiving TNF-alpha inhibitors and annually if they are at high risk of exposure. In addition, they should be monitored for histoplasmosis in endemic areas. (See "Diagnosis of latent tuberculosis infection (tuberculosis screening) in HIV-uninfected adults" and "Clinical manifestations, diagnosis, and treatment of extrapulmonary and miliary tuberculosis" and "Pathogenesis and clinical manifestations of disseminated histoplasmosis" and "Diagnosis and treatment of disseminated histoplasmosis in HIV-uninfected patients".)

In patients on methotrexate — Appropriate clinical and laboratory monitoring is essential for patients treated with methotrexate. Laboratory monitoring includes aminotransaminases, albumin, and complete blood count every six to eight weeks, until a stable dose is reached, and then every three months if all laboratory testing is normal. Toxicities and monitoring are discussed in greater detail separately. (See "Hepatotoxicity associated with chronic low-dose methotrexate for nonmalignant disease" and "Major side effects of low-dose methotrexate".)

Immunizations — The administration of live-viral vaccines and other standard childhood immunizations in patients with JIA is discussed in detail separately. (See "Oligoarticular juvenile idiopathic arthritis", section on 'Immunizations'.)

SUMMARY AND RECOMMENDATIONS

In children with mild-to-moderate, nondisabling symptoms, we suggest a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) other than aspirin as initial therapy for systemic juvenile idiopathic arthritis (sJIA) (Grade 2C). In general, a trial of NSAIDs alone should last no more than four weeks. An additional agent should be added in children who develop or continue to have significant symptoms despite use of NSAIDs. (See 'Mild-to-moderate disease' above and 'Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs' above.)

Historically, most pediatric rheumatologists have added a glucocorticoid in patients who have not responded to a trial of an NSAID alone or who have severe disease on initial presentation. However, long-term use of glucocorticoids is associated with a high frequency of side effects. In addition, biologic agents, especially the interleukin (IL)-1 and IL-6 inhibitors, are effective in reducing clinical symptoms in patients with disease refractory to NSAID and glucocorticoid therapy. More limited data suggest that they are also beneficial when used early in the care of children with severe sJIA (ie, instead of glucocorticoids) once the diagnosis is confirmed. The decision to initiate therapy with a biologic agent first and the choice of biologic agent must be made by the individual treating clinician after discussion of the risks and benefits with the patient and family. (See 'Moderate-to-severe disease' above and 'Glucocorticoids' above and 'Biologic therapy' above.)

For patients who have not responded to a trial of an NSAID alone, or whose initial symptoms include high fevers, other severe systemic symptoms, and painful polyarthritis, we suggest adding one of the biologic agents, such as anakinra, canakinumab, or tocilizumab, rather than glucocorticoids (Grade 2C). The advantage of the anti-IL-1 agents, anakinra and canakinumab, is that they are administered by periodic subcutaneous injection, while the anti-IL-6 agent, tocilizumab, is administered intravenously. Anakinra is initially prescribed at a dose of 2 mg/kg daily (up to 100 mg). Canakinumab is usually given as 2 mg/kg monthly in children less than 40 kg, but the full vial of 150 mg is given to children over 40 kg. Tocilizumab is typically given monthly at a dose of 12 mg/kg for children who weigh less than 30 kg and 8 mg/kg for those who weigh more. (See 'Moderate-to-severe disease' above and 'Interleukin-1 (IL-1) inhibitors' above and 'Interleukin (IL)-6 inhibitors' above.)

We suggest adding a glucocorticoid if there is not a prompt response to a biologic agent (Grade 2C). While the definition of a prompt response will differ from center to center, few pediatric rheumatologists would wait more than a week before adding a glucocorticoid in the face of continued polyarthritis, fever, and rash, and all would add a glucocorticoid sooner if there was evidence of macrophage activation syndrome (MAS) or severe serositis. Both the glucocorticoid and the biologic agent are usually continued until disease control is established. Both drugs are typically continued until disease control is established. The clinician may then decide to gradually withdraw the glucocorticoid first because of the inevitable toxicity associated with its chronic use. Withdrawal of the biologic agent may be attempted as well if the patient continues to exhibit no sign of disease. The prednisone dose should be limited to 0.5 to 1 mg/kg, if possible, although doses as high as 2 mg/kg, or pulsed high-dose therapy, may be required in severe cases. (See 'Refractory disease' above and 'Glucocorticoids' above.)

The approach to treating patients with a polyphasic disease course and recurrent episodes is the same as for initial therapy. (See 'Recurrent disease' above and 'Initial therapy' above.)

Treatment of persistent disease depends upon whether the patient has primarily systemic manifestations (eg, fever, rash, and serositis), primarily arthritis (which can be progressive and destructive), or both types of manifestations. Inhibitors of IL-1 and IL-6 appear to be the most effective of the biologic agents for primarily systemic disease and may be effective for chronic arthritis as well. Inhibitors of tumor necrosis factor (TNF)-alpha, blockers of T-cell costimulation (abatacept), and methotrexate can be helpful adjuncts for chronic arthritis therapy [2,11]. Other nonbiologic disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs), such as cyclosporine and tacrolimus, and cytotoxic drugs, such as cyclophosphamide, are additional options in patients who fail standard therapy, including biologic agents.

The potential toxicities of the drugs used to treat sJIA, including drug-induced MAS, must be carefully balanced against the aggressive and often permanently disabling nature of unremitting disease. Thus, patients who present with severe sJIA or who are refractory to NSAIDs should be referred to an experienced pediatric rheumatologist for management, if possible. (See 'Overview' above and 'Referral' above.)

Screening and monitoring studies are required for several of the therapies used to treat sJIA. (See 'Screening/monitoring' above.)

The management of complications associated with sJIA, including MAS, are discussed in detail separately. (See "Systemic juvenile idiopathic arthritis: Course, prognosis, and complications", section on 'Complications'.)

ACKNOWLEDGMENT — The editorial staff at UpToDate would like to acknowledge Thomas JA Lehman, MD, who contributed to an earlier version of this topic review.

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