What is reactive arthritis?
Reactive arthritis is a condition in which the joints become inflamed following an infection in another part of the body. This occurs as a result of the immune system's reaction to the infection. Causes can include sexually transmitted infections (STIs), urinary tract infections and gastrointestinal infections (food poisoning, gastro, etc.). This condition most commonly affects young adults. Symptoms may be different from person to person, but almost always include include sore joints, muscle aches and feeling tired. There is no specific test to diagnose this condition, so it isimportant that the doctor knows or finds out that the person with reactive arthritis has had an infection in the time leading up to the symptoms. Treatment involves treating the underlying infection and managing the symptoms with anti-inflammatory medications, such as ibuprofen. Most people will get better within weeks, but symptoms can persist for up to a year.
Reactive arthritis occurs as a result of a widespread immune system reaction to an infection in one area. The reason behind this is not well understood. The infections that cause this condition are usually caused by a bacteria. The most common causes are sexually transmitted infections (STIs), urinary tract infections and gastrointestinal infections, especially food poisoning. Some people have a gene (HLA-B27) which makes them more susceptible to joint conditions, including reactive arthritis.
The symptoms of reactive arthritis can be different from person to person. The most common symptom is joint pain, swelling and stiffness that comes on following an infection. The joints most commonly affected are the knees and hips, but the shoulder, elbow and fingers and back pain may also be affected. Many people also have muscle aches, a fever and feel tired. Other parts of the body may also be affected. Depending on the affected body part, this may cause symptoms such as red, watery eyes, pain with urinating, abdominal pain and mouth or skin ulcers, among others. The symptoms usually begin within 4 weeks of the infection which has caused the reactive arthritis.
The diagnosis may be made based on the symptoms and physical examination in someone who has been recently unwell with another infection. There is no specific test that confirms the diagnosis of reactive arthritis, but some tests may be done to find the underlying cause of the condition and exclude other causes for the symptoms. This may include blood tests, urine tests and X-rays of the affected joints.
Treatment involves treating the underlying infection and managing the symptoms of the reactive arthritis. Most infections that cause reactive arthritis are bacterial, and can be treated with antibiotics once the cause has been identified. Reactive arthritis itself can not be treated. The joint pain and stiffness can be helped by using simple anti-inflammatory medications, such as ibuprofen. If the symptoms persist and the infection has been treated, other medications may be used, including steroid medications and stronger anti-inflammatory medications.
Treating infections with antibiotics may be helpful in preventing some cases of reactive arthritis. Practicing safe sex and keeping good food preparation hygiene can help to prevent spreading bacteria which can cause this condition.
Other names for reactive arthritis
- Reiter’s disease
- Reiter’s syndrome