What is Reactive Arthritis?

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  • Written By: Dee S.
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 21 September 2018
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Reactive arthritis is an inflammatory condition involving the joints, eyes, urethra, mucus membranes, or skin that is triggered by an infection elsewhere in the body. It is also sometimes called Reiter syndrome, although Reiter syndrome is actually a subset of reactive arthritis. It is a fairly common condition that affects 30 out of every 100,000 individuals, usually adults. Its symptoms and signs can come and go; however, the symptoms usually disappear in their entirety in about a year.

The symptoms of reactive arthritis are sometimes easy to mistake for other medical problems in their early days. Since the urethra is affected, urinary symptoms appear within a few days or weeks of the onset of the infection. Then, a mild fever, conjunctivitis – or an infection of the eye’s conjunctiva, and arthritis develop over a few additional weeks. The arthritis can range from mild to severe and can affect one joint or many joints in the body. Some signs of reactive arthritis include pain in the Achilles tendon; burning eyes; redness of the eyes; discharge from the eyes; pain in the large joints – such as hips, knees, or ankles; lower back pain; skin sores or lesions; pain urinating; urgency to urinate or hesitation to urinate; discharge from the urethral; lesions on the male genital area; incontinence; and skin inflammation.


Some people affected by reactive arthritis must treat the underlying infection in order to treat the condition itself. Skin lesions and conjunctivitis can heal on their own or with minimal over-the-counter medicines. If there is an infection, an antibiotic will need to be prescribed by a doctor. In addition, if the joint pain is severe, an anti-inflammatory drug or pain reliever may need to be administered; but, in the most severe cases, therapy may be necessary to suppress the immune system. Sometimes, physical therapy is recommended to help reduce the pain by increasing the strength of the muscles and thereby reducing the need to rely on the joints of the body.

Prevention is possible for reactive arthritis. Since it can affect the male genital areas, it is important to avoid sexually transmitted diseases – a leading cause of this form of arthritis. In addition, wash hands and surface areas frequently. There are complications, such as aortic insufficiency, uveitis, and arrhythmias that are rarely associated with the condition. Consequently, it is always best to consult a doctor to treat the symptoms and to receive an accurate diagnosis.



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