Reactive arthritis is joint pain and swelling triggered by an infection in another part of your body â most often your intestines, genitals or urinary tract.
Reactive arthritis usually targets your knees and the joints of your ankles and feet. Inflammation also can affect your eyes, skin and urethra.
Previously, reactive arthritis was sometimes called Reiter's syndrome, which was characterized by eye, urethra and joint inflammation.
Reactive arthritis isn't common. For most people, signs and symptoms come and go, eventually disappearing within 12 months.
The signs and symptoms of reactive arthritis generally start one to four weeks after exposure to a triggering infection. They might include:
If you develop joint pain within a month of having diarrhea or a genital infection, contact your doctor.
Reactive arthritis develops in reaction to an infection in your body, often in your intestines, genitals or urinary tract. You might not be aware of the triggering infection if it causes mild symptoms or none at all.
Numerous bacteria can cause reactive arthritis. Some are transmitted sexually, and others are foodborne. The most common ones include:
Reactive arthritis isn't contagious. However, the bacteria that cause it can be transmitted sexually or in contaminated food. Only a few of the people who are exposed to these bacteria develop reactive arthritis.
During the physical exam, your doctor is likely to check your joints for signs and symptoms of inflammation, such as swelling, warmth and tenderness, and test range of motion in your spine and affected joints. Your doctor might also check your eyes for inflammation and your skin for rashes.
Your doctor might recommend that a sample of your blood be tested for:
Your doctor might use a needle to withdraw a sample of fluid from within an affected joint. This fluid will be tested for:
X-rays of your low back, pelvis and joints can indicate whether you have any of the characteristic signs of reactive arthritis. X-rays can also rule out other types of arthritis.
Genetic factors appear to play a role in whether you're likely to develop reactive arthritis. Though you can't change your genetic makeup, you can reduce your exposure to the bacteria that may lead to reactive arthritis.
Make sure your food is stored at proper temperatures and is cooked properly to help you avoid the many foodborne bacteria that can cause reactive arthritis, including salmonella, shigella, yersinia and campylobacter. Some sexually transmitted infections can trigger reactive arthritis. Using condoms might lower your risk.
Certain factors increase your risk of reactive arthritis: