Objective. To examine complaints for which children were referred to a pediatric rheumatology service and to determine whether there are specific complaints that are more likely to indicate the presence of chronic arthritis or chronic, systemic inflammatory disease.

Methods. A retrospective chart review of 414 children referred to the pediatric rheumatology service at the Children’s Hospital of Oklahoma from April 1998 to July 2001.

Results. Musculoskeletal pain was the most common complaint for which children were referred (n = 226). Of these, 111 had musculoskeletal pain as an isolated complaint. One of these children had a chronic inflammatory disease. Another 115 children had pain as 1 of several reasons for seeking a rheumatology consultation, including positive results on laboratory tests (antinuclear antibody, erythrocyte sedimentation rate, and rheumatoid factor). Nineteen of these children had a chronic inflammatory disease, including 12 with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (JRA). Thus, musculoskeletal pain as a presenting complaint had a strong negative predictive value for the presence of either JRA (0.95) or any other chronic inflammatory disease that might be characterized by arthritis. Children who were referred, in part, because of positive antinuclear antibody and/or rheumatoid factor tests were no more likely to have a chronic inflammatory disease than children who did not include such results as a reason for referral. Joint swelling, in contrast, was the most likely complaint to be associated with a diagnosis of JRA.

Conclusions. Musculoskeletal pain was the most common reason for referral to our pediatric rheumatology clinic. However, isolated musculoskeletal pain, in the absence of other signs or symptoms, is almost never a presenting complaint of children with chronic forms of arthritis. Children with arthritis more commonly present with complaints of joint swelling and/or gait disturbance. Neither ANA nor rheumatoid factor evaluations were useful in evaluating children with musculoskeletal complaints.

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