Reactive Arthritis Basics

Reactive arthritis usually develops in the knee and ankle joints or at the toes. It occurs in response to an infection in any other part of the body. This infection causes the immune system to respond in a way that it causes the joints to swell and pain. Explore the ways to manage the symptoms of reactive arthritis in the article below.

Reactive arthritis is an inflammatory condition that develops in response to an infection suffered in any other part of the body. Bacterial invasion and susceptibility to infection therefore, are the main causes of “reactive arthritis”. It is most commonly observed at the toes, knee and ankle joints. When it does not affect the joints it is called the “Reiter’s Syndrome”. In this case it can affect the eyes, skin and/or muscles.

Reactive arthritis affects anyone between 20 to 50 years old. Experts claim that it is more common among young men. Women suffer milder symptoms of reactive arthritis than men. In addition, both men and women are considered to be vulnerable to reactive arthritis arising from food borne infections or bacteria.

Types of Reactive Arthritis

Depending upon the origin of the infection reactive arthritis is classified into the following types:

  • Urogenital Reactive Arthritis. This type is triggered by an infection in the bladder, vagina or penis.
  • Gastrointestinal Reactive Arthritis. This type is triggered by an infection or bacteria in the food that you eat or handle. This condition is also called enteric or enteroarthritis.

Causes of Reactive Arthritis

Infections or bacteria that can trigger reactive arthritis are listed below:

  • Sexually transmitted diseases like AIDS
  • Genetic factors
  • Gastrointestinal pathogens that can cause stomach infections like diarrhea

Symptoms of Reactive Arthritis

The symptoms of reactive arthritis include the following:

  • Swollen urogenital tract that causes frequent urination with burning tendencies
  • Swollen eyes
  • Swollen inner eye
  • Mouth sores
  • Ulcers in the genitals
  • Rashes on the skin
  • Inflamed joints
  • Stiff and painful joints
  • Lower back pain
  • Inflamed vertebrae
  • Inflamed joints located between the spine and pelvis
  • Weight loss
  • Fever

Diagnosis for Reactive Arthritis

The symptoms of reactive arthritis are sometimes very mild and cannot be confirmed except through tests or proper diagnosis. Your doctor will examine the symptoms carefully and finally will conclude with additional tests and x-rays. The common tests conducted by the doctor include the following:

  • Urine cultures to determine an existing bacterium.
  • Blood tests to check a high sedimentation rate that would confirm inflammation.
  • Rheumatologic tests to detect the rheumatoid factor and anti-nuclear antibody. In case of reactive arthritis, a patient would test negative for both.
  • X-rays to detect cartilage or tendon swellings or infections.
  • Genes tests to identify the HLA-B27 gene.

Treatment for Reactive Arthritis

Numerous forms of treatment are available today for comforting the symptoms of reactive arthritis. They include the following:

  • Antibiotics can be used to control the initial symptoms of the infection.
  • Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can be taken to check the inflammatory conditions in reactive arthritis.
  • For short-term relief, cortisone steroid injections can be injected into the joint or tendon.
  • Disease modifying anti-rheumatic drugs can also be prescribed for controlling inflammatory conditions of reactive arthritis.
  • Tumor necrosis factor (TNF) inhibitors to check the inflammation process.
  • Exercises are effective for easing reactive arthritis symptoms.
  • Hot or cold compressors can be used for localized treatment for the joints.
  • Try relaxing the strained and inflamed joints through breathing exercises and mediation. Try Yoga and Tai Chi exercises to achieve the same.
  • Protect your joints by keeping it warm and well guarded from injury or accidents.

Physical therapy or exercises are considered to be the most effective treatment for reactive arthritis. They have the following benefits for arthritis:

  • Exercises strengthen the joints and muscles
  • Exercises also help in maintaining one’s body weight
  • Stretch exercises improve flexibility of joints and muscles
  • Strength training exercises also make the muscles strong
  • Low impact exercises like aerobics, swimming and walking also help in reducing weight

When to Consult a Doctor?

Consult a doctor if you are suffering from any of the above symptoms of reactive arthritis. Regular visits to the doctor are essential as some may develop additional complications or signs during the treatment of reactive arthritis.

Reactive arthritis can be a painful and discomforting experience. Discuss the need and suitability of a treatment with your doctor for controlling the disturbing symptoms of reactive arthritis.