Reactive arthritis is a form of arthritis that comprises of joint pain and swelling. The condition is usually triggered by an infection located in another area of the body such as a bacterial infection in the intestines, sexually transmitted infections, throat infection or urinary tract infection.
The condition is an autoimmune disease and the arthritis develops after the infection has been successfully cleared. Reactive arthritis most commonly affects the joints in the knees and those in the ankles.
Unlike other types of inflammatory arthritis, reactive arthritis tends to last a much shorter period – about three months to a year. For some individuals, however, it can last longer with random flare-ups years after the initial onset.
Causes of Reactive Arthritis
As mentioned, reactive arthritis mainly develops in reaction to an infection in the body, often in the urinary tract, genitals or intestines. Sometimes the triggering infection can cause mild symptoms or no symptoms at all.
Common causes of reactive arthritis include:
- Stomach upsets
- Other infections of the gut
- Throat infections
- Glandular fever
- Slapped cheek syndrome
- Sexually transmitted infection (STI) such as chlamydia
Genetics can also play a factor in developing reactive arthritis.
Symptoms of Reactive Arthritis
There are three main sets of symptoms that are associated with reactive arthritis. These symptoms include:
- Inflammation of the urethra: Also known as urethritis, it is a condition that causes pain when urinating and occurs as a result of bacterial infection in the urethra, which is the tube that transports urine from the bladder to the outside of the body. Some of the symptoms of urethritis burning sensation or pain when urinating and a frequent urge to urinate.
- Joint swelling and pain: These symptoms occur in the musculoskeletal system Reactive arthritis most commonly affects the joints in the ankles, knees and the sacroiliac joints of the pelvis. Joint pain, swelling and tightness in the fingers, buttocks (sacroiliac joints), back or heels may also be experienced.
- Inflammation of eyes and skin: Reactive arthritis may also involve eye inflammation, skin and mouth with symptoms such as itching, pain and discharge.
Diagnosis of Reactive Arthritis
There is no specific test to diagnose reactive arthritis, however, it is done by a combination of tests such as:
- Physical exam to check the joints for signs and symptoms of inflammation such as warmth, swelling and tenderness, together with a test for range of motion in the affected joints and spine. You might also be checked for eye inflammation and skin rashes.
- Blood tests for signs of inflammation, evidence of past and current infection, antibodies that is associated with other types of arthritis and a genetic marker that may be linked to reactive arthritis.
- Joint fluid tests to check for infections and uric acid crystals which might indicate gout.
- Imaging tests such as x-rays in the pelvis, lower back and joints to rule out other forms of arthritis.
Treatment of Reactive Arthritis
Treatment for reactive arthritis mainly depends on the cause of the condition. The goal of the treatment is to first treat the underlying cause and to relieve and manage the pain associated with it. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) help in reducing inflammation and relieving pain.
Occupational therapy is also important as it keeps the joints flexible and helps in maintaining the range of motion.
At King’s College Hospital Dubai, we focus on offering an exemplary service, from initial consultation through to final diagnosis and treatment and beyond. Our multidisciplinary team of expert doctors, nurses, physio therapists are here to offer tailored management and treatment of your condition, and to answer any questions that you might have throughout your time with us. Whatever you need us for, we’re only a phone-call away.
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