What Is Reactive Arthritis?
Reactive arthritis is
a type of arthritis that an infection in the body triggers. Typically, a sexually
transmitted infection (STI) or bacterial infection in the intestines causes reactive
arthritis. It is considered to be an autoimmune disease. The arthritis often
doesn’t develop until after the infection has been successfully treated.
reactive arthritis usually experience symptoms in the larger joints of the
lower extremity. A form of the condition known as Reiter’s syndrome affects the
eyes (conjunctivitis) and the urinary tract (urethritis).
condition isn’t very common. According to the National Institute of Arthritis
and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (NIAMS), men develop reactive arthritis more often
than women. The average age of onset is 30 years old. Men also tend to
experience more severe joint pain than women.
What Are the Causes of
infection of the urinary tract or intestines is the most common cause of
reactive arthritis. The most common bacterium associated with reactive
arthritis is Chlamydia trachomatis (chlamydia).
This bacterium usually spreads through sexual contact.
that cause food poisoning can also produce reactive arthritis symptoms.
Examples of these bacteria include Shigella and Salmonella.
be a factor in whether or not you develop reactive arthritis. According to NIAMS, people who have the gene HLA
B27 are more likely to develop reactive arthritis. However, not everyone who
has the HLA B27 gene will develop reactive arthritis if they have an infection.
What Are the Symptoms of Reactive Arthritis?
three distinct sets of symptoms associated with reactive arthritis.
symptoms include joint pain and swelling. Reactive arthritis most often affects
joints in the knees, ankles, and sacroiliac joints of your pelvis. You may also
experience joint pain, tightness, and swelling in your fingers, back, buttocks,
or heels (Achilles’ tendon area).
called urethritis causes urinary symptoms. The urethra is the tube that carries urine from the
bladder to the outside of your body. Urethritis is the inflammation of this tube. Symptoms can
include pain or burning with urination and a frequent urge to urinate.
develop prostatitis as part of reactive arthritis. Prostatitis is the inflammation of the prostate gland. Cervicitis is the inflammation of
the cervix in females. It can be a sign of reactive arthritis.
Eyes and Skin
inflammation is one of the main symptoms of reactive arthritis. Reactive
arthritis may also involve the skin and mouth. Conjunctivitis is the inflammation of the eye membranes. Symptoms
include pain, itching, and discharge.
and skin rashes are less common. However, they can accompany other symptoms of
How Is Reactive Arthritis Diagnosed?
will evaluate your medical history, perform a physical examination of your
symptoms, and run blood tests to check for infection or inflammation. A blood
test can also determine if you carry the HLA B27 gene that increases your
likelihood of developing reactive arthritis.
may run additional tests to rule out sexually transmitted infections if your
symptoms indicate a Chlamydia infection. Your doctor will swab the urethra in
men and will perform a pelvic exam and cervical swab on women. Your doctor may
also do an arthrocentesis where the fluid in the joint is removed with a needle
and studies are done on the fluid that was removed.
What Are the Treatments for Reactive Arthritis?
for reactive arthritis depends on the cause of the condition. Your doctor will
prescribe antibiotic medications to treat an underlying infection. They may
prescribe additional medications for conjunctivitis, mouth ulcers, or skin
rashes if needed.
The goal of
treatment once the underlying infection is under control turns to pain relief
and management. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen
and naproxen help relieve pain and reduce inflammation.
may prescribe stronger anti-inflammatories if over-the-counter medications don’t
relieve your pain. Corticosteroids are
man-made drugs that mimic cortisol, a hormone that the body produces naturally.
These drugs work by fighting off white blood cells and other chemicals in the
body that can cause inflammation.
You can take
corticosteroids orally or inject them directly into the affected
joints. On occasion when these don’t help, immunosuppressive agents might be
exercise into your daily routine to promote joint health. Exercise keeps your
joints flexible and helps you retain your range of motion. Range of motion is the extent to
which you can flex and extend your joints.
Talk to your
doctor if stiffness and pain limit your range of motion. They might refer you
to a physical therapist. Physical therapy is a gradual treatment process. The
goal is to return to your healthy range of motion without pain.
What Is the Long-Term Outlook?
for patients with reactive arthritis is positive. Most people make a full
recovery. However, recovery time can range from a few months to almost a year
in some cases. According to NIAMS, between 15 and 50 percent of
people with reactive arthritis experience a relapse of symptoms after initial