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Reactive Arthritis

As its name implies, reactive arthritis is an inflammation of the joints that occurs in response to infection in another part of the body, particularly in the urinary tract or the intestines. It is also associated with other inflammations such as conjunctivitis (inflammation of the eyes).

Bacterial infection is the most common trigger for reactive arthritis. If the original infection occurs in the genitals or urinary tract, the resulting inflammatory disease is referred to as urogenital reactive arthritis or uroarthritis. If the original infection stems from a bacteria-laden substance eaten or handled, it is referred to as gastrointestinal reactive arthritis or enteroarthritis.

Because of the slight differences in disease types, the managing physician may consult with the appropriate specialist to the original infection. For example, an instance of uroarthritis might involve a urologist to complement the treatment strategy.

Common Treatments:

With proper treatment, most patients recover fully from reactive arthritis within a few months. The goal is to first treat the underlying infection while managing the arthritis symptoms. For the former, a physician may prescribe an appropriate antibiotic targeted to the specific infection that triggered the reactive arthritis.

As to the arthritis itself, a physician will typically prescribe non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to relieve inflammation and pain, including over-the-counter ibuprofen or aspirin. He or she may also prescribe an NSAID like indomethacin or tolmetin, which could be more effective but requires a prescription.

Corticosteroids are other medications that can suppress inflammation in the joints. Depending on the extent or degree of the inflammation, a physician will administer the dosage as an injection, an oral application or a topical ointment.

In recent years, researchers have identified a cell protein (cytokine) that acts as an inflammatory agent in rheumatoid arthritis, now known as Tumor Necrosis Factor (TNF). Researchers developed TNF blockers that inhibit this specific protein, resulting in relieved pain and stiffness in the affected joints. Physicians initially used TNF blockers for rheumatoid arthritis, but some studies now suggest some of these drugs may be just as effective for patients with reactive arthritis.

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