Autoinflammatory Syndromes

Autoinflammatory syndromes are a diverse group of rare diseases that occur when the body has difficulty turning off inflammation. Many cause fevers in children. The Children’s Health rheumatology experts will work with you and your child to provide the best possible treatment.

What are Autoinflammatory Syndromes?

Inflammation is a tool the body uses to fight off invaders, such as bacteria or viruses. In children without autoinflammatory syndromes, inflammation will improve when the invader has been eliminated.

For those with an autoinflammatory syndrome, the body may turn on inflammation cues unnecessarily or may have difficulty turning off inflammation. When this occurs, inflammation can cause damage to different organs in the body.

What are the different types of Autoinflammatory Syndromes?

One of the most common autoinflammatory syndromes occurring in children is called PFAPA (periodic fever, aphthous stomatitis, pharyngitis, adenitis), which is a self-limited and generally benign disease of younger children.

PFAPA causes fevers lasting a few days in predictably regular intervals and can be associated with a sore throat, swollen lymph nodes and sores in the mouth. Children are generally well between episodes.

Autoinflammatory syndromes are not contagious but can often be mistaken for a virus.  

A few of the most common of autoinflammatory syndromes include:

  • Behcet’s disease – Often characterized by repeated episodes of painful oral and genital ulcers. It may also cause inflammation in the eyes, joints and other organs.
  • Blau syndrome (juvenile sarcoidosis) – Begins early in childhood and is characterized by significant joint swelling. It may also cause different rashes and eye inflammation.
  • Familial Mediterranean Fever (FMF) – More frequent in certain ethnic groups, FMF is often characterized by episodes of unexplained fever that may be associated with arthritis, abdominal pain and chest pain. Children often feel well between episodes.
  • Systemic Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis – Characterized by episodes of high-grade fevers, often at night, with joint swelling and a rash that comes and goes. It can be associated with a life-threatening manifestation called Macrophage Activation Syndrome.
  • Tumor Necrosis Factor Receptor Associated Periodic Syndrome (TRAPS) – Characterized by episodes of recurrent fevers that often last several weeks and are associated with rashes, abdominal pain, limb pain and swelling around the eyes.
  • Chronic Non-bacterial Osteitis (CNO) or Chronic Recurrent Multifocal Osteomyelitis (CRMO) – Characterized by inflammation of the bone(s) that is not related to an infection. Children with this condition may experience unexplained fevers and bone pain. Often, the collarbone or long bones are affected.
  • Cryopyrin-Associated Autoinflammatory Syndromes (CAPS) – Includes a spectrum of diseases like Familial Cold Autoinflammatory Syndrome (FCAS), Muckle-Wells Syndrome (MWS) and Neonatal Onset Multisystem Inflammatory Disease (NOMID). Symptoms range from episodes of a cold-induced hive-like rash to joint pain and fevers. In its most severe form, inflammation of the brain may also be seen.

What are the signs and symptoms of Autoinflammatory Syndromes?

While each autoinflammatory syndrome has different signs and symptoms, they are often characterized by recurrent and unexplained fevers.

Fevers may also be accompanied by rashes, joint pain/swelling, sore throat, enlarged lymph nodes, mucosal ulcers, severe acne, and inflammation of the eye or the lining of the heart (pericarditis), among other symptoms.

How are Autoinflammatory Syndromes diagnosed?

Many of the autoinflammatory syndromes are diagnosed based on a combination of signs, symptoms and abnormal lab results. On occasion and depending on the cause, the diagnosis may be confirmed by genetic testing.

What are the causes of Autoinflammatory Syndromes?

Most autoinflammatory syndromes are thought to have a genetic component to them. For some people, environmental factors or infections may trigger the disease.

How are Autoinflammatory Syndromes treated?

Treatment depends on the autoinflammatory syndrome and the severity of symptoms. Treatment may range from close monitoring to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications such as ibuprofen or naproxen.

Doctors may also prescribe colchicine or biologic agents (such as anakinra, tocilizumab or anti-TNF agents).

Autoinflammatory Syndromes Doctors and Providers

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What causes Autoinflammatory Syndromes?

    Most autoinflammatory syndromes are thought to have a genetic component to them. For some people, environmental factors or infections may trigger the disease. 

  • Can Autoinflammatory Syndromes be cured?

    While most auto-inflammatory syndromes don’t have a cure, some may improve over time without specific treatment. Other auto-inflammatory syndromes can be controlled with the right combination of medications.

  • Will my child’s daily activities be interrupted? 

    As flare-ups occur, their normal activities may be interrupted. We will work with you and your child to ensure the best possible outcome and to minimize the impact on their daily life.