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Reactive Arthritis

Reactive arthritis develops in reaction to an infection in another part of your body, often in the gastrointestinal or genitourinary tract. You may not be aware of the triggering infection because it may cause mild symptoms or none at all. The severity of your initial infection isn't related to the severity of your reactive arthritis. Numerous bacteria can cause reactive arthritis. Different forms of reactive arthritis are named based on the origin of the infection.

  • Urogenital - If the triggering infection originates in the penis, vagina, bladder or urethra, it's called urogenital (genitourinary) ReA, or uroarthritis. Chlamydia is the bacterium most often associated with reactive arthritis.
  • Gastrointestinal - If your infection is the result of something that you eat or handle, such as raw meat that's carrying bacteria, your condition is called gastrointestinal (enteric) ReA, or enteroarthritis. Food-borne bacteria include salmonella, shigella, yersinia and campylobacter.
Reactive arthritis isn't contagious. However, the bacteria that cause it can pass from person to person, such as during sexual contact and food preparation. But only a few of the people who are exposed to these bacteria develop reactive arthritis.

Signs and Symptoms

The signs and symptoms of reactive arthritis generally start days to weeks after exposure to a triggering infection. Your signs and symptoms may come and go over period of several weeks or months. Reactive arthritis can go undetected for a long time, because signs and symptoms may be mild. They can include:

  • Arthritis, usually in your ankles, knees, feet and hips
  • Inflammation of your urogenital tract (urethritis), which increases urinary frequency and causes burning during urination or a discharge (abnormal secretions) from the penis in men
  • Eye inflammation (conjunctivitis)
  • Inflammation of your inner eye (uveitis)
  • Mouth ulcers
  • Skin rashes
  • Inflammation of your tendons (tendonitis) and tendon sheaths (tenosynovitis)
  • Inflammation at the point where your tendons and bone connect (enthesitis) that can result in bony growths, such as heel spurs
  • Lower Back and buttock pain
  • Inflammation of the vertebrae (spondylitis)
  • Inflammation of the joints that connect your spine to your pelvis (sacroiliitis)
  • Fever
  • Weight loss
  • Inflammation of the prostate gland (prostatitis)
  • Inflammation of the cervix (cervicitis)

Medical Treatment

Your doctor may recommend one or more of the following medications:

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) - NSAIDS can relieve the inflammation and pain of reactive arthriti along with over-the-counter medications such as Ibuprofen, Advil, Motrin and aspirin. Indomethacin (Indocin), diciofenac (Voltaren) and sulindac (Clinoril) may be more effective, but require a prescription.
  • Corticosteroids - These medications can suppress inflammation in your joints and promote healing of skin rashes. Injections or oral dosages of corticosteroids may be administered based on the severity and number of joints inflammed. Long-term use of corticosteroids can result in many side effects and complications, depending on the dosage.
  • Antibiotics - Your doctor may prescribe an antibiotic to eliminate the bacterial infection that triggered your reactive arthritis, if it's still detectable in your body.
  • Tumor necrosis factor (TNF) blockers - TNF blockers target or block this cell protein (TNF), help relieve pain and stiffness and improve tender or swollen joints. 

Home Treatment

Appropriate exercise can help maintain and improve joint function. These exercises should be slow; any exercise that proves strenuous or elicits pain should be avoided; consult with your doctor. Strengthening exercises can develop the muscles around affected joints to increase the joint's support. Range-of-motion exercises can increases the joint's flexibility and reduce stiffness. Products that can help include:

  • Basic home exercise equipment that can be used to help maintain joint motion, flexibility and strength.
  • Exercise bikes, hand strength exercises, and tubing resistance exercises can also be very effective.
  • Specialized cold therapy and heat therapy products can ease pain and swelling.

***The information, including opinions and recommendations, contained in the Web site is for general educational purposes only. Such information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. No one should act upon any information on this Web site without first seeking medical advice from a qualified medical physician with whom they have a confidential doctor/patient relationship.***


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