Reactive arthritis, formerly called Reiter's Syndrome, typically occurs as a reaction to an infection in the body, usually the bowel or urogenital tract. Chlamydia trachomatis is the bacteria most commonly associated with reactive arthritis of the urogenital tract. Eating foods or substances contaminated by bacteria, such as salmonella, shigella, campylobacter and yersinia, can cause intestinal reactive arthritis. In many patients, the infection is not obvious.
General symptoms of reactive arthritis usually begin about one to three weeks after an infection. The initial symptoms include joint pain and swelling, skin rashes, mouth sores, redness of the eyes, fever and weight loss. Symptoms may come and go, and may be so mild that patients do not notice them.
Your doctor will begin by recording your complete medical history, including a description of your symptoms. You also will undergo a physical examination to check for any physical signs of the disease. Although the cause is not completely understood, a gene called HLA-B27 has been shown to increase a person's chance of developing the condition after a urogenital or intestinal infection. An estimated 75 percent of people with reactive arthritis have this gene.
Treatment for reactive arthritis typically includes medications, such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) like aspirin and ibuprofen, antibiotics, topical skin medications and eye drops, as well as methods of protecting the joints. You also may be referred to another specialist, such as an urologist or dermatologist, to receive treatment for specific syndromes.
Reviewed by health care specialists at UCSF Medical Center.