What is Reiter Syndrome?

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  • Written By: Hillary Flynn
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 11 October 2018
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Reiter syndrome, also known as reactive arthritis, is a condition that is triggered by an infection in another part of the body. The three main symptoms are joint pain and inflammation, urinary tract disturbances, and eye irritation. The infection triggering this reactive syndrome often begins in the genital area. Chlamydia is a sexually transmitted infection commonly determined to be the cause of Reiter syndrome. Other infections that can lead to Reiter syndrome are caused by bacteria found in the digestive track such as Salmonella and Yersinia.

The group at biggest risk for this condition are white males over 20 and under 40 years of age. Though the syndrome cannot be passed from person to person, the bacteria causing the infection that leads to the syndrome can be passed through sexual intercourse. It is unknown why some people develop the syndrome and some do not. Women can develop the syndrome, though it is much rarer and symptoms are usually less severe.

The first symptoms to look out for include an urgent and frequent need to urinate, pain or burning during urination, penile discharge, fever, and weight loss. Next, arthritic symptoms will present as joint swelling and pain, commonly in the legs and lower back. Heel pain is a frequent complaint associated with Reiter syndrome. Conjunctivitis is the condition that afflicts the eye of a Reiter patient. That means the mucous membrane surrounding the eye becomes inflamed and irritated. These symptoms may last several months.


There is no cure for Reiter syndrome, but in some cases symptoms will cease after a few weeks. In others, recurring or chronic attacks can be expected, but there are several things that can be done to relieve the symptoms. Depending on the area causing the most discomfort, different types of doctors may suggest different types of treatment. The first area to be addressed is the infection that originally triggered the reaction. If still present, antibiotics are usually prescribed to treat the infection.

Typical suggestions for treating the symptoms are bed rest during acute periods, over-the-counter non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications to relieve pain and inflammation in the joints, corticosteroid creams, and exercise. In severe cases, doctors may recommend physical therapy, corticosteroid injections, and immunosuppressive medicines. Most people with Reiter syndrome will fully recover and live a normal life. However, in a small percentage of severe cases, patients may experience crippling arthritis, heart disease, diabetes, and impaired vision.



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