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Read on to find out more information about reactive arthritis, and how this uncommon disease can affect someone's life.

Reactive arthritis involves painful swelling in the joints that is caused by an infection in another part of the body, most often the urinary tract, genitals or intestines. The joints in the knees, ankles and feet are typically the prime target for the disease. It’s common for the inflammation to affect the skin, eyes and urethra as well.

Reactive arthritis is not common and sometimes it is referred to as Reiter’s syndrome. However, Reiter’s is actually a particular type of reactive arthritis. For most individual’s the signs and symptoms of the disease will come and go, most often disappearing entirely within twelve months.

What Causes The Disease?

This bacteria induced arthritis is the result of an infection that distorts the body’s defenses and genetic environment. It is not known how these factors play into how someone develops reactive arthritis, but it is a focus of ongoing research.

What Are The Symptoms Of Reactive Arthritis?

Normally, within one to three weeks after exposure to a triggering infection, the signs and symptoms of reactive arthritis will appear. They may include the following:

  • Stiffness and discomfort: The joint pain that is associated with reactive arthritis happens most often in the feet, knees and ankles. A person could also experience pain in the lower back, buttocks and/or heels (balls of feet).
  • Swelling in fingers and/or toes: In some instances, a person’s fingers or toes could become so swollen that they appear like stuffed sausages.
  • Urinary difficulties: It is common to have increased urinary output and discomfort during urination, because the disease can cause an inflammation in the cervix or prostate gland.
  • Eye inflammation: A lot of people with reactive arthritis develop conjunctivitis, which is an inflammation of the eyes.

What Kind of Bacteria Can Cause It?

Usually, the symptoms of reactive arthritis will begin within two to four weeks after an infection. The bacteria most commonly associated with the disease is chlamydia trachomatis which is usually acquired through sexual contact with an infected person. Some evidence has also shown respiratory infections due to chlamydia pneumoniae may also trigger reactive arthritis.

Salmonella, Yersinia and Campylobacter are infections of the digestive tract that can also trigger the disease. People might become infected with these types of bacteria through contaminated food or by handling improperly prepared foods.

Physicians do not know exactly why some individuals exposed to these bacteria’s will develop reactive arthritis and others do not, but they have identified a genetic factor the human leukocyte antigen HLA B27, which can increase a person’s risk factors. However, inheriting this gene does not necessarily mean the disease will occur.

How Is Reactive Arthritis Diagnosed?

Sometimes it can be very hard for a doctor to diagnose reactive arthritis because there is no specific scientific or laboratory test to confirm it is what a person has. A physician may order a blood test to detect the genetic factor HLA B27, but even if this result is positive, the presence of the gene alone does not mean the person has the disease.

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