Reactive arthritis, also known as Reiter’s syndrome and spondyloarthritis, tends to be a temporary form of arthritis brought on by a bacterial infection.
Accompanied by inflammation in the lower back, fingers, joints, heels or toes, simultaneously or individually, this arthritic condition can be extremely painful and usually occurs in men above 20 but under 50 years of age. In some instances, it has no symptoms and because it goes away without treatment, you may never even know you had it.
Like other forms of arthritis, this type also tends to show itself through inflammation of the infected joint but unlike its relatives, this particular condition is not permanent. It does not occur because of injury or age progression but rather comes about because of a bacterial infection.
For some, the bacteria can transfer itself through sexual contact, gaining access through the genitals and later, cause watery or pus-like discharge. This type of Chlamydia bacteria may also present no symptoms, allowing you to further spread the disease if you have multiple partners or do not use condoms during intercourse.
In other instances, reactive arthritis originates from bacteria that transmit through fecal matter or live within the bowels. These bacteria, which include Salmonella and Camplyobacter, often result in diarrhea, a common symptom that gives no indication you have an arthritic infection.
Better indicators of this condition include continuous low back pain, often worse in the early and late hours of the day, pain and swelling of one or more joints, particularly those in the lower extremities, and excessive swelling in the fingers, toes or both. Some individuals also develop a rash under the feet or on the palms of the hands, experience burning while urinating, or have eye irritation and redness.
Each of these symptoms, or lack thereof, varies with the individual and the type of bacteria, with the strength of your immune system and genetics playing a key role in your body’s reaction.
Due to the pain and inflammation associated with reactive arthritis, some of the treatments, such as aspirin, heating pads and anti-inflammatory medications, are the same as those used in chronic forms of this condition. However, since this is a bacterial infection, your primary care provider is also likely to prescribe antibiotics and, in rare cases, medications to suppress the body’s immune system, which is responsible for causing inflammation, may also be necessary.
Steroid creams and injections, along with exercise, can be other forms of treatment. These not only assist in pain management but also help to protect the joint from further damage, a preventive measure to deter a future occurrence of arthritis and ensure this condition does not become permanent.
Currently, no direct correlation exists to suggest that people with reactive arthritis go on to develop other forms of arthritis. Although some people do not recover from this ailment, others go on to develop an arthritic condition later in life.
However, no evidence supports the idea that this is due to the bacterial infection, as it could be a result of genetics, injury, a weak immune system or the body’s natural aging process. In many cases, people with Reiter’s syndrome make a full recovery, though it can take anywhere from a few months to a full year for symptoms to fully subside.
Reactive arthritis is not a life threatening condition but can hinder your quality of everyday living and limit your ability to perform certain tasks, at least for a short time. Since this condition, along with some other serious medical problems, is sometimes asymptomatic, it is important that you see your primary care provider at least once a year for a regular exam and that you take proper precautions when having intercourse.
Joints Often Impacted by Spondyloarthritis
Back Arthritis - Treatments can help to reduce or even eliminate pain, as well as maintain the ability to function in every day life.
Knee Arthritis - Activity such as kneeling and stair climbing can also increase pain and swelling.
Hip Arthritis - while treatment protocols for hip arthritis cannot cure arthritis, they can often slow down the progression of the disease and decrease the pain.
Hand Arthritis - is not paralyzing but the pain and damage to the joint, especially if left untreated, could inhibit movement.
Ankle Arthritis - most commonly causes pain at and around the joint, including swelling and stiffness.