Reactive arthritis is a condition that affects children, young people, adults, and older people. In addition to causing inflammation and joint pains, reactive arthritis has its own set of symptoms.
This article will examine the symptoms, causes, and possible treatments for this type of arthritis.
What are the Symptoms of Reactive Arthritis?
Reactive arthritis causes pain, stiffness, and swelling in the joints and tendons. This normally manifests in the knees, feet, toes, hips, and ankles, much like other types of arthritis. The condition can, however, cause pain and inflammation in any joints in the body.
The outbreaks of these symptoms normally only last a few months, with only minimal numbers of cases causing long-term problems.
One of the key symptoms of reactive arthritis, as opposed to the more common types, is the fact that it can affect the eyes and the genital tract. While these don’t manifest in all cases of reactive arthritis, they are somewhat common. Symptoms affecting the genital tract include:
- Bloody/cloudy urine
- Pain when passing urine
- General feelings of tiredness and illness
- Pain in the lower stomach
When reactive arthritis affects the eyes, it can cause one of two things. It can bring about a case of conjunctivitis, or, in rare cases, it can cause a serious condition called iritis; this is when the eye becomes inflamed.
If you begin to get symptoms of these conditions, it is important to see an eye specialist as soon as you can. These symptoms can include:
- Red eyes
- Watery eyes
- Swollen eyelids
- Sensitivity to light
- Eye pain
- Misty vision
Finally, reactive arthritis can cause a few other symptoms. These symptoms include such things as flu-like symptoms, mouth ulcers, weight loss, fever, or a scaly rash on the hands or feet.
What causes Reactive Arthritis?
Reactive arthritis is a condition that manifests in response to various other kinds of infections.
The body’s immune system overreacts to the infection and starts attacking the healthy tissue at the site that has been infected, causing the inflammation.
The reason this happens is not known, but those with a particular gene called HLA-B27 appear to be more at risk of developing reactive arthritis than those who lack the gene.
Individuals without this gene can still develop the condition, but the prominence of HLA-B27 in conjunction with reactive arthritis implies there may be a genetic factor regarding the condition. The problem is that as of yet, scientists haven’t discovered how this manifests or why those with the gene are more susceptible.
Infections are also another precursor to the condition.
The types of infections which can cause the development of reactive arthritis are normally sexually transmitted diseases, particularly chlamydia. Educating people on sexual health, including how to practice safe sex, can help reduce the likelihood of infection.
Bowel infections, typically due to food poisoning, are also capable of bringing about outbreaks of reactive arthritis. Food safety practices, including personal hygiene, can help reduce the chance of contamination in care environments through training and review.
What treatments are available for Reactive Arthritis?
Most cases of reactive arthritis clear up themselves over a few months, but treatments are typically given to manage the symptoms and infections which brought about the outbreak.
Antibiotics are commonly used to treat STIs that have caused the infections, and painkillers like ibuprofen are often used to manage any joint pain.
If the symptoms don’t improve after the use of other treatments, a doctor may prescribe the use of Disease-Modifying Anti-Rheumatic Drugs (DMARDs). There are some side effects, such as blood and liver conditions, and so it is important to be monitored by doctors and given blood tests.
Self-care and preventative measures are important in dealing with outbreaks of reactive arthritis.
Rest is an important first step, but doing stretching exercises once the symptoms begin to improve will help restore muscle strength.
Specialist exercises prescribed by a physiotherapist can help manage the joint troubles, and restore range of movements.
Ice packs and heat packs are good at reducing pain and swelling, and better insoles can help provide better support for standing and moving.
Since sexually transmitted illnesses are the most common infection that triggers reactive arthritis outbreaks, refraining from having sex or making sure a condom is used during sex can reduce the chance of having an outbreak.
As food poisoning is also a trigger, learning about the consequences of poor food safety practices and the causes of foodborne illness can also limit exposure. See our Food Safety E-Learning course for more information.
Arthritis is one of many conditions that carers will need to understand to care for their patients effectively.
Although reactive arthritis can affect anyone, it is particularly important that carers understand how these conditions can impact on the lives of older patients. Our Elderly Cae Training Course covers several age-related conditions that discuss causes and care plans.
The NHS website has lots of information about the various aspects of Reactive Arthritis: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/reactive-arthritis/