Reactive Arthritis: Symptoms, Treatment


Reactive arthritis is a rare form of inflammatory arthritis that affects the heels, toes, fingers, lower back, and joints in the knees or ankles. It is named for the fact that it occurs when the body reacts to an infection, mostly appearing in the intestines, genitals or urinary tract. Inflammation of the disease can affect your eyes, skin, and urethra.

Reactive arthritis is more common in men than in women. People aged between 20 and 40 are more likely to get the condition. Individuals with HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) are at particularly high risk.


The exact cause of reactive arthritis is still unknown. Researchers indicate that risk factors for this disease include:

  • Gene

There are certain genetic markers that are far more frequent in patients with reactive arthritis than in the normal population, such as the HLA-B27 gene. But many people who have this marker never develop the condition.

  • Sex

It is estimated that men are nine times more likely to be affected by the condition than women.

  • Age

Reactive arthritis occurs most commonly in adults between the age of 20 to 40.

  • Infection

Many bacterias can cause reactive arthritis. They are transmitted by sex or by contaminated food. The most common bacterium associated with the disorder is Chlamydia trachomatis. Other bacterias that can be the trigger of reactive arthritis involve Salmonella, Shigella, Yersinia, Campylobacter and Clostridium difficile.


Generally, the signs and symptoms of reactive arthritis start one to four weeks after exposure to a triggering infection. They might include:

  • Mouth sores
  • Skin rashes
  • Pain and stiffness of joints, mostly in knees, ankles and feet
  • Inflammation and redness of the eyes
  • Painful and more frequent urination
  • Inflammation of the urinary and genital tract
  • Swelling of the toes or fingers
  • Persistent low back pain


There is no single lab test that can confirm reactive arthritis, so sometimes making a definite diagnosis is difficult. Diagnosis methods are based on recognizing arthritis and checking for typical signs and symptoms of the disease, like inflammation of the eyes, the genital, and the urinary or gastrointestinal system.

Doctors will first ask about your medical history, and then examine your joints in a physical exam for signs of inflammation. Your doctor may test the range of motion in your spine and affected joints. Besides, he or she may also check your eyes for inflammation and your skin for rashes. Other methods that can help with diagnosis include:

  • Blood tests to look for infection, inflammation, antibodies associated with other types of arthritis and HLA-B27 gene linked to this condition
  • Joint fluid tests to do white blood cell count, to check for bacteria causing infection or to see if there are uric acid crystals to rule out other diseases
  • X-rays of your low back, pelvis, and joints to indicate characteristic signs of reactive arthritis and to rule out other types of arthritis


The aim of treatment options for reactive arthritis is to control the symptoms and treat an infection that could still exist. Treatment is a combination of medications and non-drug therapies.

If your reactive arthritis is triggered by a bacterial infection and there is evidence of persistent infection, your doctor might recommend an antibiotic. In line with the arthritis signs and symptoms, medications that can help reduce pain and inflammation include:

Physical therapy is targeted to exercise your joints and muscles. For example, strengthening exercises can develop the muscles around your affected joints and range-of-motion exercises can increase your joints’ flexibility and reduce stiffness.

Keyword: reactive arthritis.

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* The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.