Still's Disease Info
What is Still's disease?
Still's disease is a form of arthritis that is characterized by high spiking fevers and evanescent (transient) salmon-colored rash. Still's disease was first described in children, but it is now known to occur, much less commonly, in adults (in whom it is referred to as adult-onset Still's disease).
What causes Still's disease?
There have been a number of schools of thought. One is that Still's disease is due to infection with a microbe. Another concept is that Still's disease is a hypersensitive or autoimmune disorder. In truth, the cause of Still's disease is still not known.
How does Still's disease fit in with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis?
Still's disease is one type of juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (JRA) and is also known as systemic-onset JRA. By "systemic" it is meant that along with joint inflammation it typically begins with symptoms and signs of systemic (body wide) illness, such as high fevers, gland swelling, and internal organ involvement. Still's disease is named after the English physician Sir George F. Still (1861-1941).
What are symptoms and signs of Still's disease?
Patients with Still's disease usually present with systemic (body wide) symptoms. Extreme fatigue can accompany waves of high fevers that rise to 104 degrees F (41 degrees C) or even higher and rapidly return to normal levels or below. A faint salmon-colored skin rash characteristically comes and goes and usually does not itch (picture of the Still's rash).
There is commonly swelling of the lymph glands, enlargement of the spleen and liver, and sore throat. Some patients develop inflammation of the lungs (pleuritis) or around the heart (pericarditis) with occasional fluid accumulation around the lungs (pleural effusion) or heart (pericardial effusion). Although the arthritis may initially be overlooked because of the impressive nature of the systemic symptoms, everyone with Still's disease eventually develops joint pain and swelling. This usually involves many joints (polyarticular arthritis). Any joint can be affected, although there are preferential patterns of joint involvement in Still's disease.
How is Still's disease diagnosed?
Still's disease is diagnosed purely on the basis of the typical clinical features of the illness. Persistent arthritis (arthritis lasting at least 6 weeks) is required to make a firm diagnosis of Still's disease. Other diseases (especially infections, cancers, and other types of arthritis) are excluded. Many patients with Still's disease develop markedly elevated white blood cell counts, as if they have a serious infection but none is found. Low red blood counts (anemia) and elevated blood tests for inflammation (such as sedimentation rates) are common. However, the classic blood tests for rheumatoid arthritis (rheumatoid factor) and systemic lupus erythematosus (antinuclear antibodies, ANA) are usually negative.
What is the frequency of Still's disease and its features?
Still's disease accounts for 10-20% of all cases of JRA. It affects about 25-50,000 children in the United States. It is rare in adults, a majority of whom are between 20 and 35 years of age at onset of symptoms. Of all patients with Still's disease, 100% have high intermittent fever; 100% have joint inflammation and pain, muscle pain with fevers, and develop persistent chronic arthritis. Ninety-five percent (95%) have the faint salmon-colored skin rash. Eighty-five percent (85%) have swelling of the lymph glands or enlargement of the spleen and liver; and 85% have a marked increase in the white blood cell count. Sixty percent (60%) have inflammation of the lungs (pleuritis) or around the heart (pericarditis). Forty percent (40%) have severe anemia. And twenty percent (20%) have abdominal pain.
What research is being done on Still's disease?
Diverse types of research are ongoing related to this illness. At one of the latest meetings of the American College of Rheumatology, for example, a paper was presented which demonstrated the effectiveness of intravenous immunoglobulin therapy in adult-onset Still's disease. This was a pilot study. More studies are needed to confirm these results.
What is the outlook with Still's disease?
The fever and other systemic features tend to run their course within several months. The arthritis can be a long-term problem. It usually stays on after the systemic features have gone. The arthritis can then become chronic and persist into adulthood.
How is Still's disease treated?
Still's disease can cause serious damage to the joints, particularly the wrists. It can also impair the function of the heart and lungs. Treatment of Still's disease is directed toward the individual areas of inflammation. Many symptoms are often controlled with antiinflammatory drugs, such as aspirin or other non-steroid drugs (NSAIDs). Cortisone medications (steroids), such as prednisone, are used to treat more severe features of illness.
For patients with persistent illness, medications that affect the inflammatory aspects of the immune system are used. Medications now being used are analogous to the classic "second-line" therapies used for patients with rheumatoid arthritis. These include gold, hydroxychloroquine (PLAQUENIL), penicillamine, azathioprine (IMURAN), methotrexate(RHEUMATREX), and cyclophosphamide.
and Family Education
also incorporate changes in body position. Patients should be encouraged to
change their position frequently during the course of the day. Ideally, position
changes should occur at least every two hours. The patient with Stills who sits
most of the day should periodically get up and walk around. The patient who
stands most of the day, should find some way to periodically sit and rest. It
should be acknowledged by all involved that at some point changes in life style
may need to be made.
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