Reactive Arthritis - Personal Experience

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What is reactive arthritis?

Reactive arthritis is a chronic form of arthritis featuring the following three conditions: (1) inflamed joints, (2) inflammation of the eyes (conjunctivitis), and (3) inflammation of the genital, urinary, or gastrointestinal systems.

This form of joint inflammation is called "reactive arthritis" because it is felt to involve an immune system that is "reacting" to the presence of bacterial infections in the genital, urinary, or gastrointestinal systems. Accordingly, certain people's immune systems are genetically primed to react aberrantly when these areas are exposed to certain bacteria. The aberrant reaction of the immune system leads to spontaneous inflammation in the joints and eyes. This can be confounding to the patient and the doctor when the infection has long passed at the time of presentation with arthritis or eye inflammation.

Reactive arthritis has, in the past, been referred to as Reiter's syndrome (a term that has lost favor because of Dr. Hans Reiter's dubious past, one of enthusiastically embracing Nazi politics and medical abominations). In addition, Reiter's syndrome would refer to a specific type of reactive arthritis limiting inflammation to the eyes, urethra, and joints.

Reactive arthritis most frequently occurs in patients in their 30s or 40s, but it can occur at any age. The form of reactive arthritis that occurs after genital infection (venereal) occurs more frequently in males. The form that develops after bowel infection (dysentery) occurs in equal frequency in males and females.

Reactive arthritis is considered a systemic rheumatic disease. This means it can affect other organs than the joints, causing inflammation in tissues such as the eyes, mouth, skin, kidneys, heart, and lungs. Reactive arthritis shares many features with several other arthritic conditions, such as psoriatic arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, and arthritis associated with Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. Each of these arthritic conditions can cause similar disease and inflammation in the spine and other joints, eyes, skin, mouth, and various organs. In view of their similarities and tendency to inflame the spine, these conditions are collectively referred to as "spondyloarthropathies."

Picture of spondyloarthropathy - Reactive Arthritis
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See what others are saying

Comment from: Mr.Pain, 35-44 Male (Patient) Published: April 24

I was diagnosed with reactive arthritis about 3 months ago. It started as mild lower back pain, then as it worked its way up my spine, the pain steadily increased especially at night. At times it felt as if it was attacking my lungs making it difficult to breathe or even move. The pain would go away for a day or two, then return in another area. NSAIDS do nothing for the pain, I was on prednisone for about 3 weeks and it worked like magic. Sadly I can't continue using it, and the pain is returning. I'm a 40 year old man with two young girls. It's a scary feeling not knowing how much longer I have not being able to do the simple things.

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Comment from: Glass artist, 65-74 Female (Patient) Published: September 29

When I was 29, I was diagnosed with iritis and told by my ophthalmologist to be prepared for a health problem in the future. Then when I was 34, after 3 strep throats within 2 months, I first developed right thumb pain and swelling. Then joint pain in my right sacroiliac joint (SI) that continued to worsen. I was treated with different NSAIDs for 8 months, and sedimentation rate and pain returned to normal, but doctors could not diagnose me. I had no more problems until I was 39, when strep throat again triggered another severe episode. My HLA-B27 was negative, but I received a Reiter's syndrome diagnosis. After that, anytime I had a flare, a cortisone injection in my SI joint worked. I had more flares, after food poisonings and even stress (most often stress). Then when I was 59, I began having flares of costochondritis. At 62 they started me on Enbrel, which controlled any flare. Finally at age 66 I was diagnosed with Crohn's disease. I was switched to Humira. Since the Crohn's diagnosis almost 2 1/2 years ago, I have had more flares with costochondritis, tendinitis, arthritis in some of my joints and Crohn's flares, too. These past 4 months have been terrible for me. I learned when having a cracked tooth (and root canal), the gum doesn't heal, creating more pain, which will necessitate an extraction. This often happens with patients who have auto-immune and inflammatory conditions. Reactive arthritis is truly systemic!

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