Septic Arthritis

What is septic arthritis?

Polyarticular septic arthritis is a bacterial infection affecting multiple joints throughout the body. The infection can occur from bacteria reaching the joints via the bloodstream, or entering the joints directly (for example during surgery or an accident). This condition can affect anyone, but people with diabetes or a weakened immune system are at higher risk for developing it. Symptoms include pain, redness, swelling, and difficulty moving the joints. A diagnosis is confirmed when a fluid sample from the affected joints shows that bacteria are present. With antibiotic treatment and proper management, most people will recover well.


Polyarticular septic arthritis is a bacterial infection affecting several joints. The most common cause is direct contamination of the joints with bacteria during an accident, injection, or surgery. Joint replacement surgeries pose a particularly high-risk. Infections in the blood stream can also cause this condition if bacteria spread to the joints. This condition can affect people of any age, but tends to be more common in older people. People who have diabetes or a weakened immune system may be at a higher risk for developing this condition.


Typical symptoms of polyarticular septic arthritis include reddening, swelling, pain, stiffness and a feeling of warmth at the joints. Many people also develop a fever. If the infection is widespread, affected people may also experience nausea, vomiting, dizziness or drowsiness.


A diagnosis may be suspected based on the symptoms and examination of the affected joints. The diagnosis is confirmed when a sample of fluid from the joints reveals the presence of bacteria. Further diagnostic testing may include blood tests, an ultrasound, and an X-ray or MRI of the joints.


Treatment for polyarticular septic arthritis involves clearing the infection with antibiotics, draining any infected fluid, or if necessary, surgically cleaning the joints. If the septic arthritis followed a joint replacement surgery, the joint replacement itself may need removal. During and after treatment, pain relief and physiotherapy are important for maintaining joint mobility.


People with diabetes and weakened immune systems should seek prompt treatment for all infections, including urinary tract infections and skin infections.

Other names for septic arthritis

  • Polyarticular septic arthritis
  • Polyarticular pyogenic arthritis
  • Polyarticular suppurative arthritis
  • Polyarticular bacterial arthritis
  • Polyarticular infectious arthritis
  • Polyarticular fungal joint infection