Reactive arthritis is an uncommon condition that can make your joints swell and hurt, similar to the pain of arthritis. "Reactive arthritis" means your immune system is reacting to an infection you already had. One kind of reactive arthritis is called Reiter's (say: "rite-erz") syndrome.
You may have swelling in a knee, ankle or toe. Sometimes your heel or Achilles tendon will hurt. (The Achilles tendon is on the back of your ankle, right above your heel). You may feel pain or burning when you urinate. You may also have a discharge from your penis or vagina. Your eyes might be red and painful, and you may feel a burning sensation. Your vision may be blurry.
The same bacteria that cause food poisoning can cause reactive arthritis. So can some sexually transmitted infections (STIs) such as gonorrhea, chlamydia or HIV infection.
Reactive arthritis is most common in men between 20 years and 40 years of age. Women can also get reactive arthritis, but their symptoms are usually milder.
There's isn't a specific test for reactive arthritis. Your doctor will make the diagnosis based on your symptoms and other information they get from you during your appointment.
Your doctor may also want to test you for an STI, since it's possible to have an STI without knowing it.
Your doctor may give you a medicine for pain and swelling. You may also need antibiotics if you have an STI caused by bacteria. If you have an STI, it's important that you and your sex partner get tested and treated to keep the STI from coming back.
The good news is that for most people, reactive arthritis goes away in 3 to 4 months. For a few people, the joint pain comes back again and again. If this happens to you, talk with your doctor about what can be done.
Written by familydoctor.org editorial staff