Definition of Reactive Arthritis

Reactive arthritis is a type of inflammatory arthritis. It falls under a group of arthritic diseases that are short-lived. The duration of the disease ranges between 6 weeks and 12 weeks. Reactive arthritis has a predilection for men under the age of 40. Cases of women and children have been reported as well. It typically follows shortly after a bacterial infection.

Causes of Reactive Arthritis

Infection being an established etiological factor of reactive arthritis is not a straightforward explanation. The infection, once it enters the human body, will cause specific symptoms depending on the site of bacterial inoculation.

Reactive arthritis tends to occur 2 – 4 weeks after the initial bacterial infection has either spontaneously resolved or been treated with antibiotics. The joint change is reactive arthritis and is consistently aseptic. This means there is no bacteria or debri in the joints.

Even though bacterial infections are known etiological factors, not every person who gets infected with the range of bacterial agents implicated in this disease develop reactive arthritis. This has led to the possibility of reactive arthritis being considered as an autoimmune type of osteoarthritis.

The etiological factors include:

  • Bacterial infection e.g. Salmonella, Shigella, Streptococcus infection, Neisseria Gonorrhea etc.
  • Genetic predisposition in people with HLA-B27
  • Young men <40 year

Symptoms of Reactive Arthritis

Reactive arthritis tends to affect weight-bearing joints such as the knee, the back and ankle. It is often a type of oligoarthritis (affects more than one joint but less than three). The pattern of joint involvement is asymmetric. Other joints can be affected as well e.g. elbow, wrist and joints in the fingers and toes.

  • Joint pain describe as sharp and nagging
  • Joint swelling that starts abruptly
  • Swelling in the finger joints causing sausage-shaped fingers
  • Morning stiffness lasting at least 30 minutes
  • Inability to bend (if there’s associated sacroiliac arthritis)
  • Joint mobility is impaired

Treatment of Reactive Arthritis

Reactive arthritis responds well to oral medication when it is diagnosed early. Having a good doctor, with a deep knowledge in reactive arthritis, is very important. Our orthopedic specialist, Dr. Burke, is widely read on this disease. His skills in eliciting a relevant history to easily arrive at an accurate diagnosis is simply impeccable. He is thorough in his therapeutic approach. You can get the following treatment plans:

  • Pharmacologic treatment e.g. NSAIDS, oral steroids, DMARDs such as methotrexate
  • Local steroid injections
  • Use of ice packs
  • Joint immobilization using splints
  • Physiotherapy
  • Orthopedic surgery (rare) e.g. joint reconstruction, joint replacement