This joint pain is triggered by an infection in another part of the body — often the intestines, genitals or urinary tract.
Reactive arthritis is joint pain and swelling triggered by an infection in another part of the body — most often the intestines, genitals or urinary tract.
This condition usually targets the knees, ankles and feet. Inflammation also can affect the eyes, skin and the tube that carries urine out of the body (urethra). Previously, reactive arthritis was sometimes called Reiter's syndrome.
Reactive arthritis isn't common. For most people, signs and symptoms come and go, eventually disappearing within 12 months.
The signs and symptoms of reactive arthritis generally start 1 to 4 weeks after exposure to a triggering infection. They might include:
If you develop joint pain within a month of having diarrhea or a genital infection, contact your health care provider.
Inflammation often affects these sites in people with reactive arthritis.
Reactive arthritis develops in reaction to an infection in your body, often in your intestines, genitals or urinary tract. You might not be aware of the triggering infection if it causes mild symptoms or none at all.
Numerous bacteria can cause reactive arthritis. Some are transmitted sexually, and others are foodborne. The most common ones include:
Reactive arthritis isn't contagious. However, the bacteria that cause it can be transmitted sexually or in contaminated food. Only a few of the people who are exposed to these bacteria develop reactive arthritis.
Certain factors increase your risk of reactive arthritis:
Genetic factors appear to play a role in whether you're likely to develop reactive arthritis. Though you can't change your genetic makeup, you can reduce your exposure to the bacteria that may lead to reactive arthritis.
Store your food at proper temperatures and cook it properly. Doing these things help you avoid the many foodborne bacteria that can cause reactive arthritis, including salmonella, shigella, yersinia and campylobacter. Some sexually transmitted infections can trigger reactive arthritis. Use condoms to help lower your risk.
During the physical exam, your doctor is likely to check your joints for swelling, warmth and tenderness, and test range of motion in your spine and affected joints. Your doctor might also check your eyes for inflammation and your skin for rashes.
Your doctor might recommend that a sample of your blood be tested for:
Your doctor might use a needle to withdraw a sample of fluid from within an affected joint. This fluid will be tested for:
X-rays of your low back, pelvis and joints can indicate whether you have any of the characteristic signs of reactive arthritis. X-rays can also rule out other types of arthritis.
The goal of treatment is to manage your symptoms and treat an infection that could still be present.
If your reactive arthritis was triggered by a bacterial infection, your doctor might prescribe an antibiotic if there is evidence of persistent infection. Which antibiotic you take depends on the bacteria that are present.
Signs and symptoms of reactive arthritis may be eased with:
A physical therapist can provide you with targeted exercises for your joints and muscles. Strengthening exercises increase the joint's support by developing the muscles around the affected joints. Range-of-motion exercises can increase your joints' flexibility and reduce stiffness.
You'll likely start by seeing your primary care provider, who might refer you to a doctor who specializes in arthritis (rheumatologist) for further evaluation.
When you make the appointment, ask if there's anything you need to do in advance, such as fasting before having a specific test. Make a list of:
Take a family member or friend along, if possible, to help you remember the information you're given. For reactive arthritis, basic questions to ask your doctor include:
Don't hesitate to ask other questions.
Your doctor is likely to ask you a number of questions, such as: