People who suffer pain and stiffness of joints may have a condition called reactive arthritis. This condition is thought to develop after an infection occurs in a part of the body. This usually happens in a week to three weeks after the infection sets in. For many, this infection begins in the intestines, genitals or urinary tract. The knees, ankles and feet are often affected by pain and swelling with this type of arthritis. The inflammation can also occur in the eyes, skin and urethra, which carries urine from the bladder. Reiter syndrome is a type of reactive arthritis that affects joints, eyes and the urethra. The Mayo Clinic says about 30 out of every 100,000 people are diagnosed with reactive arthritis. For many people, the signs and symptoms of this disorder flare and recede, usually disappearing within a year.
In addition to symptoms listed above, reactive arthritis can cause: heel and/or ankle pain; swollen toes and fingers; pain in the low back or buttocks; inflamed prostate gland or cervix; painful or burning urination; increased need to urinate; mouth ulcers; skin rashes; and inflammation of the inner eye (cervicitis).
Men, particularly those between the ages of 20 and 40, are at a higher risk of developing this type of arthritis than women are. Women are diagnosed with the disorder too, but their symptoms are usually milder. Both women and men are equally prone to developing reactive arthritis after a food borne illness. Men, on the other hand, are more likely to develop the disorder after exposure to sexually transmitted bacteria. Certain genetic factors may also make it more likely to develop reactive arthritis. Many people who have this disorder also have a certain molecule on the surface of cells. This genetic marker is inherited but doesn’t necessarily mean that a person who has it will develop reactive arthritis. It simply means that a person who has the marker may be more likely to develop the disorder if exposed to certain infections. Examples of bacteria that can cause reactive arthritis include salmonella, Chlamydia, shigella, yersinia and campylobacter.
Because signs and symptoms can be mild, the condition may go undiagnosed at first. There is not a medical test that can be given to confirm the diagnosis, but a combination of tests may help doctors get to the root of the problem. These include blood tests to identify infection, inflammation, antibodies and genetic markers. Doctors may also test stools, urine, genital secretions and throat mucous. Joint fluid tests can also help doctors who are looking for infections in the joints, and X-Rays may be given to look for characteristic signs of reactive arthritis.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and corticosteroids are two of the medications that may be used to help sufferers control symptoms and pain. Exercise and physical therapy may also be helpful.