Reactive arthritis consists of inflammation of the joints and appears most frequently following a local infection, especially at the level of the spine. This disease is also known as Reiter syndrome. It is an older nomenclature, and it has been used mostly in American medical journals. This denomination refers to the association between the diseased joint, urethritis and inflammation of the eye. It has been discovered that the occurrence rate of various types of arthritis is sometimes gender-specific. Although more arthritis types seem to affect women, reactive arthritis is more frequent in men, ages 20 to 40.
Reactive Arthritis Causes
Although the causes for reactive arthritis have not been clearly determined yet, research does seem to indicate that genetics play a big part in the development of reactive arthritis, as well as infections located in the digestive or urogenital tract. Urethral, vaginal or bladder infections fall into this category. It seems that the bacterium causing these infections is sexually transmitted, and reactive arthritis can occur 3 weeks from the onset of the infection. One of the most popular sexually transmitted infections that can lead to reactive arthritis is Chlamydia trachomatis.
Reactive arthritis should not be mistaken for its lesser-known cousin, gastrointestinal arthritis. This is also bacterially-triggered, but the contamination occurs following the ingestion of poorly-cooked or spoiled foods.
Reactive Arthritis Symptoms
The symptoms of reactive arthritis start showing after 2 or 3 weeks following the onset of the infection. Reactive arthritis targets areas such as the joints, eyes and urogenital tract. Besides pain and inflammation, other symptoms might include fatigue, muscle pain, weight loss and fever. More severe symptoms such as small penile ulcers or heart and lung damage might also occur. However, the frequency of these kinds of symptoms is very low.
One of the most frequent symptoms is back pain. This appears in about 50% of patients suffering from reactive arthritis. It is more intense during the night and can be accompanied by stiffness that can last anywhere from an hour to a whole day. Swelling of the fingers might also occur, giving them a sausage-like appearance.
Reactive Arthritis Treatment
Before treating reactive arthritis, a proper diagnosis must be formulated. In order to diagnose this disease, the patient’s symptoms must be closely observed by a doctor, along with an examination of the joints. If the doctor considers necessary, a series of tests might also be performed, such as joint x-rays, biopsies and blood tests. It is recommended that people suffering from this illness practice safe sex. Most reactive arthritis patients are healed after approximately 6 months of treatment. Chronic arthritis usually subsequently develops in 20% of cases.
The purpose of the treatment of arthritis is reducing its symptoms and treating the co-occurring infection that triggered it. This treatment is based on the administering of various pharmaceutical remedies such as corticosteroids, antibiotics, non-steroid anti-inflammatory medicine such as ibuprofen, and immunosuppressant drugs. It is very important that the patient follows the doctor’s orders closely in order to avoid any complications that might occur due to both the disease and the heavy medicinal treatment.