What is Reactive Arthritis?: Everything You Need to Know

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Reactive arthritis is arthritis in reaction to another condition. Hence, its name.

Sometimes, it is known as Reiter's disease.

For most people, this is a condition that occurs once and then goes away after a period of time.

A percentage of people will have a chronic condition for 12 months or more after the episode.

In this article, we'll discuss reactive arthritis, what it is, symptoms and how to treat it. Read on for more information about this disease.

What is Reactive Arthritis?

Reactive arthritis is arthritis that occurs in reaction to another infection in the body. However, for some individuals, they don't even know they have an infection their body is reacting to, hence confusion surrounding the diagnosis.

Most often, people who develop reactive arthritis do so in relation to an infection in their intestines, urinary tract or genitals. The diseases that often make people develop reactive arthritis are typically sexually transmitted or foodborne, but not always.

Many people with reactive arthritis have the HLA-B27 gene, but not everyone. Simply having that gene does not mean you'll develop reactive arthritis. It also does not mean that an illness you currently have is tied to reactive arthritis.

What are the Symptoms?

Symptoms of reactive arthritis can be diverse. Most often, they include symptoms of joint inflammation (particularly in the lower extremities), as well as issues with the eyes and urinary tract.

Some of the arthritis symptoms individuals may experience include swelling of the back, swelling of the spine, swelling of a tendon, bone spurs, and joint pain and swelling.

Specifically, some individuals suffer from swollen fingers and toes.

Some people also experience general pain and stiffness in their bodies. They should also pay attention to inflamed tendons, as those with reactive arthritis often have pain where they attach to the bone.

Men with reactive arthritis may experience an inflamed prostate, burning when urinating, urinary frequency and urgency and discharge.

Women with this condition may have an inflamed cervix, swollen vagina or vulva, swollen fallopian tubes, and a burning sensation in the vagina or when urinating.

Reactive arthritis can also cause eye symptoms in both sexes. This includes red eyes, blurry vision, and painful eyes. You can also develop pink eye or inflammation on the inside of your eye.

Skin conditions can also play a role in reactive arthritis. Some people develop rashes and sores in their mouth as a response to the disease.

How Do I Know If I Have Reactive Arthritis?

Reactive arthritis often mimics other diseases. If you have any of the symptoms listed above, let your doctor know immediately.

If you have recently suffered from an infection and have these symptoms, let the doctor know. This way, he or she can test for reactive arthritis in addition to the other diseases he or she may test for.

Sometimes, it can take several weeks to diagnose reactive arthritis.

Who Develops Reactive Arthritis?

Anyone can develop it, but statistically, it affects specific groups. The most common age group is between the ages of 20 and 40.

Both men and women can develop reactive arthritis, and do in equal measure. However, men more often develop it as a result of a sexually transmitted disease or infection.

As mentioned above, those who carry the gene are also more likely to develop reactive arthritis.

How Common is Reactive Arthritis?

It is relatively uncommon, which makes it harder to diagnose. Most people who experience infections will recover without any other issues.

Can the Disease Be Cured?

Many connective tissue diseases similar to reactive arthritis, like lupus, for instance, are not curable. Instead, they can be managed.

Reactive arthritis is not curable per se, but it is not typically lifelong. Most people experience pain for 12 months or so and then it will disappear either on its own or without treatment.

Some people will go on to develop a chronic condition associated with reactive arthritis.

How Does a Doctor Diagnose Reactive Arthritis?

Often, a doctor will take a complete history and then perform blood work. This is to rule out other autoimmune and connective tissue disorders that are similar to reactive arthritis.

How Is It Treated?

There are many ways that doctors can treat reactive arthritis.

Of course, one way is to let it run its course. This may be incredibly unpleasant for some people, however.

Reactive arthritis is treated like most other connective tissue disorders, though it is expected to go away. You will likely receive NSAID, or non-steroid anti-inflammatory drugs, to help keep your pain and swelling down.

In some cases, you'll take a course of steroids to help mitigate the disease and keep it from rearing its ugly head. Many people find relief from steroid treatment, even though many of its side effects are unpleasant.

Your doctor may also put you on an immunosuppressant. Many people freak out when they hear this word. However, an immunosuppressant works to help slow down your immune system which is working in overdrive. You won't be more likely to catch illnesses unless you're on a dose that is too strong.

When Do I Call My Doctor?

While reactive arthritis is rare, it does occur. It is important to take inventory of yourself after suffering from an infectious disease.

If you have any of the symptoms listed above after an infectious disease, you should contact your doctor immediately to run tests.

At the Cohen Medical Centers, we can help you if you think you may suffer from reactive arthritis. Contact us today to make an appointment.