Similar to other forms of arthritis, reactive arthritis causes painful and inflamed joints. What makes reactive arthritis unique is that it is triggered by an infection in another part of the body.
In most cases, urinary, intestinal or genital infections are the culprit.
Reactive arthritis usually occurs in people between the ages of 20 to 40. Both men and women can develop this condition. Some studies have shown a genetic link with reactive arthritis, however further research is necessary to confirm this finding.
There are several bacteria that can cause reactive arthritis but the most common are chlamydia, salmonella, shigella and campylobacter. This form of arthritis is not contagious, however the bacteria that causes it can be transferred from person to person through sexual contact and can be found in contaminated food.
The most common joints affected by this form of arthritis are the knees, ankles and feet. The symptoms associated with reactive arthritis usually start a few weeks after the triggering infection. The most widely reported symptom is painful, stiff joints of the lower leg. In some cases, patients report swollen toes and fingers. Interestingly, many people who have reactive arthritis also develop eye inflammation or conjunctivitis. Urinary problems may also occur.
It is important to seek medical attention if you have new or worsening joint pain. At your visit, your doctor will take a detailed history and perform a physical examination. During the physical examination your doctor will examine the affected joints for swelling and tenderness as well as range of motion.If deemed necessary, your doctor may recommend blood tests or a joint fluid analysis in which a small amount of fluid is removed from the joint with a needle. The joint fluid will then be assessed for the presence of white blood cells, bacteria and crystals. The results of this test will help determine the cause of the joint inflammation. X-rays may also be useful to rule out other forms of arthritis.
The main goals of treatment are to manage symptoms and treat any underlying infections that may still be active. Antibiotics are usually prescribed to fight the infection. Anti-inflammatory medications may be used to reduce pain and inflammation in the joints. Corticosteroid injections into the affected joints can also help to reduce pain.
Physical therapy has been shown to be effective to help people with arthritis improve joint function. Stretching and strengthening exercises are usually prescribed to help develop the surrounding musculature, which in turn will increase joint stability. In addition, range of motion exercises are used to decrease joint stiffness and increase mobility.
The good news is that reactive arthritis is relatively rare. However, it is always a good idea to maintain good sanitary practices to avoid the spread of bacteria. Hand-washing and proper food preparation and storage are essential to prevent the transfer of food-borne bacteria that can cause reactive arthritis.
Keep these simple tips in mind and you will be well on your way to preventing reactive arthritis.
Until next month, drive safely.
Dr. Christopher H. Singh runs Trans Canada Chiropractic at the 230 Truck Stop in Woodstock, Ont. He can be reached at 519-421-2024.