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What is Reiter’s Syndrome (Reactive Arthritis)? Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

Reiter’s syndrome is a type of arthritis that occurs after an infection. This syndrome doesn’t only affect the joints, as you might expect from arthritis, but has consequences on different parts of the body.

Here, we’ll tell you everything you should know about it.

What is Reiter’s syndrome?

Reiter’s syndrome or reactive arthritis is, as its name suggests, a type of arthritis that occurs as a reaction to different infections. Arthritis is an inflammation of the joints. That is, of the tendons, their fasciae, and synovial membrane, which are the parts that form each joint.

In addition to the joints, this syndrome also affects other parts of the body. These are, above all:

  • Eyes,
  • Skin,
  • Reproductive system,
  • Urinary system.

Although this issue can affect anyone, it occurs mainly in men under 40 years of age. The prototypical person suffering from this disease is usually a man in his 30s. However, we’d like to repeat that it can occur in any other age group.

What are the causes?

As we’ve already mentioned, it usually occurs after different infections. Although its causes aren’t fully established yet, certain antecedents seem to be the most predisposing to this syndrome. Some examples would be:

  • After intestinal infections due to food poisoning. Those that most frequently produce reactive arthritis are Shigella and salmonellosis.
  • After suffering urethral infections, both in men and women, after having had unprotected sexual intercourse. Some of the sexually transmitted diseases that can lead to Reiter’s syndrome are, for example, chlamydia and gonorrhea.
  • Although it isn’t entirely clear, specialists also suspect that genetics may play a role. More cases of Reiter’s syndrome have been reported in people with a direct family history of Reiter’s syndrome.

What symptoms does it produce?

Like all arthritis, the main symptom that this syndrome will produce is pain in the joints. Normally, it will be in more than one joint, affecting areas that support our weight, such as the hips, knees, or the lumbar area of the back.

In addition to joint involvement, problems in the reproductive and urinary systems may manifest as pain or discomfort when urinating or having sexual intercourse. In addition, a whitish discharge from the urethra may sometimes be observed, especially in men. Blood-tinged urine may also appear at the time of urination.

Conjunctivitis may also appear in the eyes. As for general symptoms, it can produce fever of a few degrees, malaise, and fatigue. Non-painful ulcers also appear on the tongue or the lips, eyes, and genital apparatus.

Diagnosis and treatment of Reiter’s syndrome

As always, a specialist will make a diagnosis based on the signs and symptoms and a good physical examination. In addition to this, they may also perform blood and urine tests and imaging tests, such as X-rays or ultrasound of the spine or affected joint.

Once they establish the diagnosis, they will base the treatment on rest and symptom control. They may prescribe analgesics and anti-inflammatory drugs. If doctors find a clear cause, such as a sexually transmitted infection, treatment of reactive arthritis will be based on the therapeutics for that infection.

When in doubt, ask a doctor

The manifestations of this syndrome may be present from a few weeks to months. This depends on the intensity of the infection and the involvement of the body, as well as the response of each patient to the treatment and the processes that occur.

Therefore, the most important thing is to visit a doctor as soon as possible if you have any symptoms. The professional will be the one to establish the steps to follow so that the process goes as smoothly as possible and affects us as little as possible.

Even so, in many cases, once someone suffers from reactive arthritis, it’s not uncommon that after months or years it reappears as a result of some other infection.

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