Systemic Onset Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis and Cystic Lymphatic Malformations in a Toddler- A Puzzling Coincidence?

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A 3 year old Hispanic male presented with fevers, skin rash, left neck swelling and refusal to walk of several days duration. Physical exam revealed a febrile, fussy toddler with a tender, cystic lesion in the left submandibular region. Both ankles had tender cystic lesions on the lateral malleolar regions. Labs: WBC 33,000 with neutrophilia, bandemia, thrombocytosis, and increased ESR and CRP. MRI of the neck and ankles revealed cystic lymphatic malformations with no communication with the joints.ENT specialist was consulted and neck cystic lesion was aspirated to rule out a septic focus. Bone scan of the lower extremities ruled out infectious or malignant etiology. He was started on multiple antibiotics with a presumed diagnosis of sepsis. An ECHO on the 4th hospital day showed a pericardial effusion which required a pericardial window. He also developed bilateral pleural effusions which resolved with supportive treatment. Aspirates from the cystic lesions, pericardial fluid, blood and urine cultures were sterile. Even in the second week of hospital stay, he continued to spike high fevers (Tmax 107) with high white counts and left shift inspite of treatment with antibiotics. A diagnosis of systemic onset juvenile idiopathic arthritis (SOJIA) was made with input from rheumatologist. Antibiotics were discontinued and steroids were started with good response. Cystic lesions were treated with percutaneous sclerotherapy with doxycycline. He was discharged home on oral steroids, NSAID’s and weekly methotrexate. Etanercept was added to decrease dependence on oral steroids. He remains in good health 2 years since initial presentation. Discussion: A febrile toddler who refuses to walk is a common clinical presentation in pediatrics. Differential diagnosis of such a patient includes osteomyelitis, septic arthritis, acute rheumatic fever, leukemia and non-accidental trauma. The presence of systemic extra-articular symptoms as in our patient must alert the pediatrician to systemic onset juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (SOJIA). It accounts for 10-20% of all juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA) patients with an incidence of 0.4-0.8 per 100,000. SOJIA differs from other conditions in its multisystem involvement. Clinical features like pleurisy, pericarditis, spiking fevers, hepatosplenomegaly and lymphadenopathy overshadow the joint symptoms. The joint involvement may be completely absent or may be a late clinical feature. These patients have leukocytosis, thrombocytosis and high inflammatory markers simulating a septic focus. In our patient, the accurate diagnosis was complicated by the confounding presence of multiple cystic lymphatic lesions. Treatment of SOJIA is challenging. Oral steroids, NSAID’s, methotrexate, etanercept and the newer anakinra have been used with varying success. Our case underlines the importance of considering a diagnosis of systemic onset JIA in a febrile toddler even in the absence of overt joint involvement.


Johnson City, TN

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