Treatment of systemic juvenile idiopathic arthritis (sJIA) should emphasize early use of conventional synthetic and biologic disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs), compared with the previous reliance on NSAIDs and glucocorticoids, according to new guidelines from the American College of Rheumatology. The recently published 2021 guidelines focus on therapeutic approaches for oligoarthritis, temporomandibular joint (TMJ) arthritis, and sJIA.
“Systemic JIA should be treated early with biologics to rapidly bring disease under control and to avoid long-term use of glucocorticoids,” Karen Onel, MD, chief of the division of pediatric rheumatology at Weill Cornell Medicine, New York, and lead author of the guidelines, told this news organization. “Unfortunately, biologics can and are frequently denied for first-line use. For this reason, the guidelines are critically important as they demonstrate that first-line use of biologics are standard of care for the treatment of sJIA.”
The new publication is the second part of the ACR’s process to update JIA guidelines that began in 2017 and complements the release in 2019 of guidelines on the management of nonsystemic polyarthritis, sacroiliitis, and enthesitis, as well as a separate guidance on JIA-associated uveitis. The new guidelines include a second publication focused on nonpharmacologic therapies, medication monitoring, immunizations, and imaging. Both sets of guidelines grew out of a 15-member panel that included young adults with JIA and caregivers of children with JIA, and which required at least 70% agreement on recommendations.
“Though the scope of the two guidelines differed, one thing they had in common is the recognition of the importance of shared decision-making with the patient/caregiver,” Dr. Onel said. “Not every decision will be appropriate for every patient, which is why it was so instrumental to receive input from both patients and caregivers when creating these recommendations.”
Oligoarticular and TMJ arthritis
Oligoarticular and TMJ arthritis have similar recommendations, beginning with NSAIDs conditionally recommended and intra-articular glucocorticoids (IAGCs) strongly recommended as part of initial therapy. For oligoarticular arthritis, the guidelines specifically include a strong recommendation of triamcinolone hexacetonide as the preferred agent; no preferred agent is recommended for TMJ arthritis.
“The one thing that the panel was unanimous about was the use of triamcinolone hexacetonide for intra-articular steroid injections in oligoarticular kids,” Susan Shenoi, MBBS, MS, an associate professor and clinical director of pediatric rheumatology at Seattle Children’s Hospital and Research Center, said in an interview. “Triamcinolone hexacetonide has not been available recently, and through advocacy efforts, there is now a pathway to get that medication,” added Dr. Shenoi, a coauthor on the guidelines.
Dr. Onel said that “triamcinolone hexacetonide has been shown to be superior to alternative injectable glucocorticoids in achieving and maintaining remission in children with JIA,” but its unavailability meant physicians had to consider less effective, more potent, or more costly alternatives.” To address the shortage, “the FDA allowed the importation of[Hexatrione 2%] specifically for joint injections in patients with JIA.”
The guidelines conditionally recommend against oral glucocorticoids for initial therapy for both oligoarticular and TMJ arthritis. In fact, throughout the guidelines it’s clear that the authors emphasize using steroids as little as possible, Dr. Shenoi said.
“Steroids are great anti-inflammatories, but in kids we worry about the long-term effects on growth and metabolism, and now we have many more DMARDs available,” Dr. Shenoi said.
The guidelines strongly recommend conventional synthetic DMARDs for patients with either of these diseases who cannot tolerate or do not respond to NSAIDs or IAGCs, with methotrexate conditionally recommended over leflunomide (Arava) for TMJ and over leflunomide, sulfasalazine (Azulfidine, Sulfazine), and hydroxychloroquine, respectively, for oligoarticular arthritis.
“NSAIDs remain widely used despite evidence supporting early use of DMARDs,” Dr. Onel said. “NSAIDs are readily available and familiar; however, they will not prevent disease progression. These guidelines should encourage short courses of NSAIDs only.”
If patients do not respond to or cannot tolerate NSAIDs, IAGCs, and at least one conventional DMARD, the guidelines strongly recommend a biologic DMARD for oligoarticular arthritis and conditionally recommend one for TMJ arthritis, without any preferences to the specific agent.
The guidelines also advise using validated disease activity measures to guide treatment decisions.
“The most important thing when you’re looking at these patients is to determine, do they have active disease or not?” Dr. Shenoi said. “If they have active disease, then you really want to step up therapy.” Using the relatively new concept of treat-to-target, Dr. Shenoi added that a crucial part of shared decision-making with the family is identifying the most appropriate target for that family “and then really trying hard to achieve that target.”
The guidelines also list risk factors for poor outcome that can be used to guide treatment decisions.
“Specific involvement of key joints, such as TMJ, wrist, sacroiliac, hip, and ankle, and other features were considered reasonable justification for early escalation of therapy,” Dr. Onel said. Other features included presence of erosive disease or enthesitis, delay in diagnosis, elevated levels of inflammation markers, and symmetric disease. “Moving quickly may be needed for a patient who is rapidly worsening, while moving slower may be appropriate for somebody who has improved substantially, but not fully.”