Growth impairment has been described in patients with juvenile rheumatoid arthritis (JRA). Both the direct action of underlying disease and prolonged corticosteroid usage for disease management may contribute to growth impairment. The purpose of this retrospective study was to evaluate the effect of systemic corticosteroid treatment on attained adult height in patients with JRA. We reviewed patients who first visited our hospital from 1973 to 1995 with a diagnosis of JRA. Adult height (AH) and the reported parental heights of these patients were recorded. Target height (TH) is estimated according to midparental height. Patients who never had or had only transient (less than 1 week) systemic corticosteroid therapy were classified as group 1. Group 2 included patients who had corticosteroid therapy for more than 1 week but never continuously for more than 12 months, and group 3 included patients on long-term steroid treatment (continuously for more than 1 year). Height data were analysed using adult height and the difference between adult height and target height (AH minus TH). Thirty-three patients fulfilling the diagnostic criteria for JRA were reviewed. Fourteen belonged to group 1, 13 to group 2 and six to group 3. The difference between adult height and target height in group 1 was 2.96 +/- 4.54 cm, in group 2 0.71 +/- 6.08 cm (group 1 vs. group 2, P = 0.28), and in group 3 -11.65 +/- 10.71 cm (group 1 vs. group 3, P<0.05). In 15 patients who never received corticosteroid therapy continuously for more than 1 year, AH-TH was statistically correlated neither with the cumulative corticosteroid exposure dose nor with cumulative corticosteroid exposure period by linear regression ( P = 0.408, P = 0.278, respectively). We concluded that continuous systemic corticosteroid usage for less than 1 year does not affect attained adult height in JRA patients; however, prolonged corticosteroid treatment for more than 1 year can lead to irreversible growth impairment.