R is for Reactive arthritis

August 26, 2023

Reactive arthritis, (previously known as Reiter’s syndrome) is a form of inflammatory arthritis that develops in response to an infection in another part of the body..

Reactive arthritis, also known as Reiter’s syndrome, is a type of inflammatory arthritis that typically develops as a reaction to an infection in another part of the body, often in the genital, urinary, or gastrointestinal systems. This condition is considered an autoimmune response, where the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks healthy tissues, leading to inflammation and joint pain. Reactive arthritis primarily affects the joints, eyes, and urinary or genital tract.

Causes and Triggers: The condition is triggered by certain infections, most commonly bacterial infections, especially gastrointestinal infections (such as from Salmonella, Shigella, Campylobacter, or Yersinia) and sexually transmitted infections (such as Chlamydia trachomatis). It’s believed that the immune response to the infection leads to an inflammatory reaction that affects various parts of the body.

Symptoms: Reactive arthritis typically involves symptoms such as joint pain, stiffness, swelling, and redness. It often affects the joints of the lower extremities, including the knees, ankles, and feet. Other common symptoms include inflammation of the eyes (conjunctivitis), pain and inflammation of the urogenital tract (urethritis), skin rashes, and sometimes inflammation of the spine and sacroiliac joints.

Onset: The symptoms of reactive arthritis usually appear a few weeks after the initial infection. The onset can be sudden and may vary in severity.

Diagnosis: Diagnosis of reactive arthritis is based on a combination of clinical symptoms, medical history (including recent infections), physical examination, and sometimes laboratory tests. Tests might include blood tests to look for markers of inflammation and specific antibodies related to the triggering infections.

Treatment: Treatment for reactive arthritis focuses on managing symptoms and addressing the underlying inflammation. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are commonly prescribed to help reduce pain and inflammation. In more severe cases, where NSAIDs are not sufficient, healthcare providers might prescribe corticosteroids or disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) to suppress the immune response.

Prognosis: The prognosis for reactive arthritis varies from person to person. Many individuals experience flares of symptoms followed by periods of remission. With appropriate treatment and management, most people can achieve symptom relief and maintain a good quality of life. In some cases, however, joint damage can occur, leading to more chronic issues.

Prevention: Since reactive arthritis often follows infections, preventing the initial infections through good hygiene practices and safe sexual behavior can reduce the risk of developing this condition. For instance, practicing safe sex and maintaining proper food hygiene can be beneficial.

It’s important to note that while the term “Reiter’s syndrome” was historically used to describe this condition, it has fallen out of favor due to the historical associations with Nazi war criminal Hans Reiter. The condition is now generally referred to as “reactive arthritis.”


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