Reactive arthritis, or “Reiter’s syndrome,” is a form of inflammatory arthritis that attacks the joints, eyes, and urinary system (bladder, vagina, urethra). This condition develops when bacteria enter the bloodstream and trigger an inflammatory response in various body parts.
Typically, the bacteria that cause reactive arthritis is transmitted through sexual contact or food poisoning, and the inflammatory response occurs two to four weeks after infection. Although reactive arthritis is not contagious, the bacteria that cause it can be passed from person to person.
It is possible to develop reactive arthritis at any age; however, it is more common in men between 20 and 50 years old. Although reactive arthritis symptoms usually fade within 6 to12 months for most patients, some may suffer from symptoms that persists longer or experience chronic reoccurrence.
What causes reactive arthritis?
The exact cause of reactive arthritis is still unknown, but it usually develops following an infection that triggers the immune system. Studies have shown that some bacterial diseases play a role in developing reactive arthritis; These include chlamydia, salmonella, shigella, Yersinia, and campylobacter, as they are responsible for various sexually transmitted and gastrointestinal illnesses.
What are the symptoms of reactive arthritis?
- Joint pain. Patients may experience pain and inflammation signs in many body parts, mainly in the knees, ankles, and the pelvis’s sacroiliac joints. You may also feel joint pain, stiffness, and swelling in your fingers, back, buttocks (sacroiliac joints), or heels (Achilles tendon area).
- Urinary infections. Patients with urinary tract issues may suffer from a disorder known as urethritis, which causes inflammation in the urethra – tube that transports urine from the bladder to the outside of the body. Urinary symptoms might include burning or pain when urinating and a need to urinate frequently. Moreover, Reactive arthritis may contribute to the development of prostatitis in men – a condition that causes swelling on inflammation in the prostate gland. As for women, Reactive arthritis puts them at a higher risk of developing an inflammation in the cervix, known as “cervicitis.”
- Eyes and skin inflammation. One of the main signs of reactive arthritis is getting a red and swollen eye or a condition called “conjunctivitis,” which is when the membranes around the eyes get red and swollen, resulting in pain, itching, and recurrent discharge.
Patients may also experience skin rashes, such as keratoderma blennorrhagicum, which appears as small bumps on the soles of the feet.
How is reactive arthritis diagnosed?
Our rheumatologist will review your medical history, conduct a physical examination of your joints, spine, eyes, and skin, and order blood tests and urine or stool samples to check for infection or inflammation. Additionally, a blood test can establish whether you carry the HLA B27 gene, which raises the probability of developing reactive arthritis.
If your symptoms suggest a chlamydia infection, your doctor may order additional testing to rule out other sexually transmitted diseases. Men will have their urethra swabbed while women undergo a pelvic exam and cervical swab. Your physician may also perform an arthrocentesis test, which involves extracting joint fluid with a needle to be examined closely.
How is reactive arthritis treated?
Treating reactive arthritis depends on the condition’s underlying cause! Your doctor will prescribe antibiotics to treat a bacterial infection. They may later recommend further treatments for conjunctivitis, mouth ulcers, and skin infections if necessary.
Treatment of reactive arthritis may include nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to help ease joint pain and reduce swelling. Some patients require taking a corticosteroid, a stronger anti-inflammatory medication. Such medications can be consumed orally or injected directly into a joint, muscle, or other soft tissue
However, if your reactive arthritis progresses for a long time, you may be prescribed disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs). They work to subdue a hyperactive immune system to minimize or prevent joint deterioration and alleviate pain and inflammation.
Moreover, your doctor may recommend including exercise in your everyday routine to maintain healthy joints since physical activity keeps your joints flexible and improves your range of motion. You may also need physical therapy to restore your normal range of motion.
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