Reactive arthritis is a form of arthritis that affects the joints, urethra, eyes, and sometimes skin and mucous membranes. Reactive arthritis, formerly known as Reiter’s syndrome, is an inflammatory form of arthritis that occurs as a reaction after an infection in another part of the body. Arthritis is a complex family of musculoskeletal disorders consisting of more than 100 different diseases or conditions that destroy joints, bones, muscles, cartilage and other connective tissues, hampering or halting physical movement.
The infection usually is in either the urogenital tract (bladder, vagina or urethra) or the intestinal tract. Although the bacteria do not migrate to other parts of the body, they do set off a reaction in different parts of the body. The three classic symptoms of reactive arthritis are inflammation of the eyes (conjunctivitis), inflammation of the urinary tract (urethritis) and inflammation of the joints (arthritis).
The symptoms of reactive arthritis usually last three to 12 months. Many affected individuals have mild or absent conjunctivitis and urethritis with only a couple swollen and painful joints. However, some people may have an acute, severe bout of reactive arthritis that can seriously limit their activities.
Treatment of reactive arthritis is based on where it has become manifest in the body. For joint inflammation, patients are generally initially treated with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). These medications include aspirin, indomethacin (Indocin), tolmetin (Tolectin), sulindac (Clinoril), pinoxicam (Feldene), and others. Corticosteroids, such as prednisone, can be helpful to reduce inflammation and are used in the short-term treatment of inflammation in reactive arthritis.
Most people will recover from the initial flare of symptoms and be able to return to normal activities after three to six months. For these people, mild symptoms of arthritis may last for up to 12 months. Some reactive arthritis patients will have a relapse of symptoms at some point after the initial flare has disappeared.