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Diseases > Reactive Arthritis > What is it going to do to me?

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Reactive Arthritis?

The symptoms of reactive arthritis can be very typical of any inflammatory arthritic condition. The arthritis tends to start very quickly and can be very intense. It commonly affects the feet, ankles, knees, and hips. The joints affected are typically very stiff, swollen, painful, warm, and they might be slightly red. The arthritis is often asymmetric, meaning it can affect just one side of the body. Sometimes the toes can swell up like sausages (this is called dactylitis). The arthritis can also cause inflammation of the joints of the lower back leading to back pain and stiffness.

At the initial onset of the disease, people can feel unwell, tired and feverish. They may have headaches or lose weight. These symptoms can also be due to the recent infection.

Other conditions that can be present with the disease include inflammation of the eye (conjunctivitis) and genital or urinary symptoms such as painful urination (urithritis) or pelvic pain in women.

In rare cases, a rash may occur on the skin and sores on the mouth or nose may develop. You may also notice nail changes. Men can sometimes have genital sores.

Work and reactive arthritis

Your ability to work will depend on the severity of your symptoms. In the early stages, reactive arthritis can be very intense and come on quickly. This can be quite debilitating and significantly interfere with your ability to work. You may need some time off. If the swelling and stiffness are manageable, you can continue working. Sometimes the disease can be permanently disabling.

Luckily there are things you can do to lessen the impact on your work and daily routine. If you have a job where you sit for much of the day, adjusting features of your workplace can help make working with reactive arthritis easier. For example, adjusting the position of chairs and desks for proper posture can help. You can also make adjustments to the seat of your vehicle to make driving more comfortable.

Travel and reactive arthritis

Traveling is possible when you have reactive arthritis, if you feel up to it. If the onset is acute, you may find it difficult to travel. Chronic reactive arthritis can flare up at any time, so you need to be prepared and pack extra medication. Before going on any trip, always check with your doctor. See our travel checklist for extra tips.

Sex and reactive arthritis

Reactive arthritis can sometimes affect sexual function or sex drive. If you have an acute attack, you may find you’re just not in the mood. If your symptoms include low back inflammation, this can be debilitating and make sex difficult.  This can create barriers to sexual needs, ability and satisfaction. Take comfort knowing that sex and intimacy can be maintained in people with reactive arthritis … it can even draw partners closer together through improved communication. For more information on intimacy, a great book is Rheumatoid Arthritis: Plan to Win by Sheryl Koehn, Taysha Palmer and John Esdaile. Many of the tips in this book can also be applied to people with reactive arthritis.

It’s important to remember that reactive arthritis can be associated with sexually transmitted infections such as Chlamydia, gonorrhea, syphilis and HIV.  Please make sure you are tested for these diseases, especially if you are sexually active and have had unprotected sex. While you are waiting for your results, you should abstain from unprotected sex. Your partner should also be tested if your results for an STI are positive.

Pregnancy and reactive arthritis

Reactive arthritis does not affect your ability to become pregnant. Some medications used to treat reactive arthritis should not be taken when trying to get pregnant or while breastfeeding. If you have this disease and want to get pregnant it is very important to discuss this first with your doctor. Your doctor can help come up with a safe plan to control your reactive arthritis while you try to get pregnant and during your pregnancy.

Read more – What can I do about it?