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What Is Reactive Arthritis?

Reactive arthritis is a painful inflammatory joint disease triggered by certain bacterial infections. Most commonly, it follows a gastrointestinal infection, such as campylobacter, salmonella, shigella or yersinia, which is manifested by diarrhea. Sometimes, a pelvic infection/STD such as Chlamydia can also lead to the development of reactive arthritis.

While the bacteria that cause reactive arthritis are very common, the condition itself is relatively uncommon and not contagious.

What Are the Symptoms of Reactive Arthritis?

Oftentimes, reactive arthritis affects the knees, ankles and feet. The symptoms, which typically appear within one to four weeks after exposure to a triggering infection, may include:

  • Joint pain and swelling
  • Heel tendon pain and swelling
  • Finger and toe swelling
  • Low back pain that worsens with rest and improves with activity
  • Urinary problems, including increased frequency and burning sensations
  • Eye irritation and redness (conjunctivitis)
  • Skin rashes on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet
  • Mouth sores

Usually, these symptoms come and go and ultimately resolve within approximately 6-12 months, but in some cases the condition becomes chronic.

How Is Reactive Arthritis Treated?

The goals of reactive arthritis treatment are to manage the symptoms and address the underlying infection. A physician may prescribe an antibiotic if there are signs of a persistent bacterial infection. Pain relievers and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can also be helpful for reducing joint pain and swelling if needed. Corticosteroid injections may also be considered to address severe joint inflammation.

Chronic reactive arthritis may require treatment with a disease-modifying antirheumatic drug (DMARD), such as sulfasalazine or methotrexate. Sulfasalazine may be especially beneficial if the reactive arthritis was triggered by a gastrointestinal infection.

Once the joint inflammation is controlled, a physical therapist can recommend strengthening exercises that target the muscles that support the affected joints, as well as range-of-motion exercises to increase joint flexibility and reduce stiffness.

The Importance of Specialist Care

Reactive arthritis is a complex condition that can be challenging to diagnose. Therefore, if you experience joint pain or other symptoms within a month of having signs of an infection or diarrhea, you should seek medical attention from a specialist. You can receive an accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment at Advanced Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine in Houston, TX. Contact us to schedule an appointment with a rheumatologist today.