Reactive arthritis is joint pain and swelling triggered by an infection in another part of your body — most often your intestines, genitals or urinary tract.
The joints in your knees, ankles and feet are the usual targets of reactive arthritis. Inflammation also may affect your eyes, skin and urethra when you have reactive arthritis.
Although reactive arthritis is sometimes called Reiter's syndrome, Reiter's is actually a specific type of reactive arthritis. In Reiter's, inflammation typically affects the eyes and urethra, as well as your joints.
Reactive arthritis isn't common. For most people, signs and symptoms of reactive arthritis come and go, eventually disappearing within 12 months.
The signs and symptoms of reactive arthritis generally start one to three weeks after exposure to a triggering infection.
Reproductive and urinary
Eyes, mouth and skin
People with reactive arthritis often experience inflammation at these sites. ...
Certain factors increase your risk of reactive arthritis:
Reactive arthritis develops in reaction to an infection in another part of your body, often in your intestines, genitals or urinary tract. You may not be aware of the triggering infection because it may cause only mild symptoms or none at all.
Numerous bacteria can cause reactive arthritis. The most common ones include:
Reactive arthritis isn't contagious. However, the bacteria that cause it can be transmitted sexually or in contaminated food. But only a few of the people who are exposed to these bacteria develop reactive arthritis.
Signs and symptoms of reactive arthritis may last three to 12 months. However, many people can control their signs and symptoms with treatment and return to their normal routine within two to six months of the onset of reactive arthritis.
Up to half the people with reactive arthritis redevelop signs and symptoms after their initial condition disappears. It's possible that relapses are the result of reinfection. Arthritis and back pain are the symptoms that reappear most often, but urogenital and eye inflammation also tend to recur.
Preparing for your appointment
While you may initially consult your family physician, he or she may refer you to a rheumatologist — a doctor who specializes in arthritis — for further evaluation.
What you can do
List your questions from most important to least important in case time runs out. For reactive arthritis, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
In addition to the questions that you've prepared to ask your doctor, don't hesitate to ask questions during your appointment.
What to expect from your doctor
Tests and diagnosis
Reactive arthritis can go undiagnosed for a long time because your signs and symptoms may be mild. While there is no single test that will confirm a diagnosis of reactive arthritis, the results of a variety of tests make it possible to rule out other conditions that may be causing your signs and symptoms.
Joint fluid tests
Tests of other body fluids
Treatments and drugs
The goal of treatment is to manage your symptoms and treat any underlying bacterial infections that may still be present.
For your arthritis signs and symptoms, your doctor may recommend:
Genetic factors appear to play a role in whether you're likely to develop reactive arthritis. Though you can't change your genetic makeup, you can reduce your exposure to the bacteria that may lead to reactive arthritis.
Make sure your food is stored at proper temperatures and is cooked properly. These steps can help you to avoid the many food-borne bacteria that can cause reactive arthritis, including salmonella, shigella, yersinia and campylobacter.
In addition, practice safe sex because preventing sexually transmitted diseases may lower your risk of developing reactive arthritis.
Last Updated: 2011-03-05
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