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Arthritis Explained

Reactive Arthritis



What is Reactive Arthritis?

Reactive Arthritis is inflammation of a joint which is triggered by an infection. Unlike an infection inside the joint (Infective Arthritis), Reactive Arthritis is due to the presence of a persistent bacterial organism that remains in the body following a previous infection.

Reactive Arthritis affects 30 to 40 people per 100,000. It can occur secondary to a Urinary Tract Infection, Sexually Transmitted Infection or following Gastro Intestinal or Respiratory Infections.

Apart from inflammation, pain and swelling of the affected joints, Reactive Arthritis is accompanied by redness and inflammation of the outer layer of the eyes, skin inflammation, nodule formation on the palms of the hands and soles of the feet and a burning pain when passing urine.

How does Reactive Arthritis cause Pain?

Unlike Infective Arthritis the bacterial organism that causes Reactive Arthritis cannot be detected in the fluid that is removed from the affected joint with a needle and syringe.

The bacterial organism enters the joint via the bloodstream. Because this bacteria is in what is called a 'persistent state' it doesn't directly cause the tissue damage that it may do within other body tissues. Instead, the body's immune system recognises the bacteria and reacts to its presence by starting a defensive inflammatory response.

There is inflammation of the Synovial Membrane that encloses the joint. This causes a marked increase in blood vessels to this tissue, a thickening of the membrane and an increase in inflammatory fluid within the joint. However, total joint destruction is rare. This is thought to be due to the bacterial organism being less virulent because in its persistent state it cannot destroy its host.

What should you do if you suffer from Reactive Arthritis?

There is a good prognosis with Reactive Arthritis if early treatment is sought from a Consultant Rheumatologist. Antibiotic medication can eradicate the bacterial organism that causes Reactive Arthritis. Severe flare ups can be treated with anti-inflammatory medication.

Physiotherapy treatment is also helpful. Exercise therapy is important to maintain joint range of movement, muscle strength and flexibility. The specific exercises can be formulated by a Chartered Physiotherapist. Many people with Reactive Arthritis find that exercises in water, with the help of a Bouyancy Belt, can be beneficial.

Your physiotherapist will also be able to give advice about the use of splints and braces to support the joints that are affected by Reactive Arthritis. Splints and braces can relieve pain and prevent the formation of contractures in the tissue that surrounds the joint.

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