Reactive Arthritis

What is it?

Arthritis is a complex family of musculoskeletal disorders consisting of more than 100 different diseases or conditions that destroy joints, bones, muscles, cartilage and other connective tissues, hampering or halting physical movement. Reactive arthritis, formerly known as Reiter’s syndrome, is an inflammatory form of arthritis that occurs as a reaction after an infection in another part of the body. The inciting infection usually is in either the urogenital tract (bladder, vagina or urethra) or the intestinal tract (called enteric reactive arthritis). Although the bacteria do not migrate to other parts of the body, they do set off a reaction in different parts of the body. The three classic symptoms of reactive arthritis are inflammation of the eyes (conjunctivitis), inflammation of the urinary tract (urethritis) and inflammation of the joints (arthritis).

The symptoms of reactive arthritis usually last three to 12 months. Many affected individuals have mild or absent conjunctivitis and urethritis with only a couple swollen and painful joints. However, some people may have an acute, severe bout of reactive arthritis that can seriously limit their activities.

What are the effects?

Urethritis usually is the first symptom but may frequently be absent in women. This is accompanied or followed by conjunctivitis. Arthritis is usually the last symptom to appear.

Most people will recover from the initial flare of symptoms and be able to return to normal activities after three to six months. For these people, mild symptoms of arthritis may last for up to 12 months. Some reactive arthritis patients will have a relapse of symptoms at some point after the initial flare has disappeared.

How is it diagnosed?

There is no one single test that your doctor can give to determine whether you have reactive arthritis. By listening to your description of symptoms, by asking you questions and by running a few laboratory tests, your doctor can make a clinical diagnosis.

What are the treatment options?

Although there is no cure for reactive arthritis, there are some treatments such as antibiotics, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs,corticosteroids, DMARDS and exercise  that can relieve the symptoms.

What resources are available?

The Arthritis Foundation leads the way in helping people with arthritis live better today and create better tomorrows through new treatments, better access and, ultimately, cures. We do this by:

  • Funding life-changing research that has restored mobility in patients for more than six decades
  • Fighting for health care policies that improve the lives of the millions of Americans with arthritis
  • Partnering with families to provide empowering programs and information

If you are diagnosed with reactive arthritis, some Arthritis Foundation resources that may help you better manage and live with your disease are: