Reactive Arthritis

Overview

What is reactive arthritis?

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.

Symptoms

What are the symptoms of reactive arthritis?

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.

Causes & Risk Factors

What kinds of infection can cause reactive arthritis?

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.

Who gets reactive arthritis?

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.

Diagnosis & Tests

How can my doctor tell if I have reactive arthritis?

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.

Treatment

How is reactive arthritis treated?

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.

What can I do to get better?

  • Take your medicines.

  • If you have an STI, have your partner(s) tested.

  • Practice safe sex.

  • Reduce your risk of getting food poisoning by cooking meat completely, washing utensils and surfaces well and keeping food cold so it doesn’t spoil).

  • Do light exercises (ask your doctor what you can safely do).

Other Organizations

Questions to Ask Your Doctor

  • What is the best treatment for me?

  • How long will my treatment last?

  • Could my symptoms come back?

  • What do I do if my symptoms come back?

  • Could I also have a sexually transmitted infection?

  • Could I give reactive arthritis to my sexual partner?

  • Is there anything I can do at home to relieve my symptoms?

  • What exercises can I do?

Citations

  • Reactive Arthritis (Reiter’s Syndrome) by WF Barth, M.D. and K Segal, M.D.( 08/01/99, http://www.aafp.org/afp/990800ap/499.html)