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Diseases > Reactive Arthritis > What is it?

What is Reactive Arthritis?

Reactive arthritis is a type of arthritis often found in the joints of the lower body, such as the feet, ankles, knees and hips. It can also affect the joints of the lower spine. In some cases inflammation in the tendons may occur. It belongs to a group of arthritic diseases known as spondyloarthropathies, which also includes ankylosing spondylitispsoriatic arthritis, and arthritis associated with inflammatory bowel disease. Reactive arthritis used to be called Reiter’s syndrome.

Reactive arthritis is usually acute (sudden onset, short-term), but it can also be chronic (long-term). Chronic forms can flare up and down.

What causes Reactive Arthritis?

Reactive arthritis typically occurs after an infection of the bowels or urinary tract. For some reason the infection triggers an arthritis reaction. This can happen 1 to 4 weeks after the infection. Reactive arthritis can also be triggered by a sexually transmitted infection (STI) such as chlamydia or it can come after a diarrheal infection.

Who gets Reactive Arthritis?

Reactive arthritis is rare and affects younger men and women (in their 30s and 40s). It is a bit more common in men. Like many other diseases, there is a genetic component at play with reactive arthritis. People have to be genetically susceptible to the disease. This means they have a specific gene called HLA-B27. But, having the HLA-B27 gene doesn’t guarantee that you’ll get reactive arthritis. Many people have this gene and don’t ever develop the disease. Having the gene just means you have a higher chance of getting the disease.

Some famous people with reactive arthritis include Daniel Johns, singer and front man of 90s alternative rock band Silverchair, former KISS guitarist Mark St. John and former South African sprinter Paul Nash. There is also speculation that Christopher Columbus may have had reactive arthritis.

How is Reactive Arthritis diagnosed?

There is no single diagnostic test for reactive arthritis. It is best diagnosed by a specialist who is very familiar with arthritic diseases (a rheumatologist). A careful and complete history will be taken followed by a thorough physical examination. You should tell your doctor if you’ve recently had a bowel or urinary infection or an STI.

What tests are done to diagnose Reactive Arthritis?

Blood tests can be done to look for inflammation and help diagnose reactive arthritis. However, a blood test alone cannot diagnose the disease. There are several tests that can help make a diagnosis:

  • Complete Blood Count (CBC) – will measure hemoglobin levels to determine if anemia is present, a sign of inflammation, as well as red and white blood cells and platelets
  • Erythrocyte Sedimentation Rate (ESR)
  • C-Reactive Protein (CRP)
  • A blood test to look for the genetic marker HLA-B27
  • Stool culture – to look for bacteria often associated with infection
  • STI tests for Chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis, and HIV
  • Urinalysis and urine culture – to look for infection of the urinary tract

Read more – What is it going to do to me?