Print Page

Overview of Reactive Arthritis

Reactive arthritis (ReA) is a form of arthritis that can cause inflammation and pain in the joints, skin, eyes, bladder, genitals, and mucus membranes. Unlike ankylosing spondylitis, ReA does not normally affect the spine and the sacroiliac joints in a majority of cases. ReA is thought to occur as a "reaction" to an infection that started elsewhere in the body, generally in the genitourinary or gastrointestinal tract.

SAA receives no government funding and relies on the generous donations from individuals to create and maintain the programs and services aimed at improving the futures of the 2.7 million Americans affected by spondylitis.

Potential Causes of Reactive Arthritis

Reactive arthritis occurs after exposure to or infection caused by certain types of bacteria. These include:

  • Chlamydia, a bacterium contracted during sexual activity, which causes either burning during urination or watery discharge from the penis or vagina.
  • Bacteria such as Salmonella, Shigella, Yersinia or Campylobacter, which cause dysentery (diarrhea, abdominal pain, vomiting, fever). Exposure to these bacteria occurs after eating spoiled or contaminated food.

No everyone exposed to these bacteria, however, will contract ReA. Those who go on to develop ReA are more likely to test positive for the HLA-B27 genetic marker, although other genetic factors may be involved. Thus, it is an interaction between an individual's genetic make-up and the initial infection that causes reactive arthritis.

Symptoms

The symptoms of reactive arthritis can affect many areas of the body, but most typically affect the urogenital tract, the joints, and the eyes. Other, less common symptoms include mouth ulcers and skin rashes.


Learn More About Symptoms

Diagnosis

Because there is no specific laboratory test to confirm reactive arthritis (ReA), doctors sometimes find it difficult to diagnose. As with other forms of spondyloarthritis, a rheumatologist is commonly the type of physician who will make a diagnosis of ReA. A medical examination, which may include various blood tests to rule out other conditions, is necessary. X-rays may also be ordered, and cell samples may be tested.


Learn More About Diagnosis

Disease Course/Prognosis

Reactive arthritis usually develops two to four weeks after infection and typically follows a limited course, with most people recovering from its symptoms in three to 12 months. 

A tendency does exist for more severe and long-term disease in patients who test positive for HLA-B27, as well as in those who have a family history of spondyloarthritis.

In about 15 to 20 percent of people with ReA, the condition recurs, sometimes brought on by reinfection. There is also a possibility of developing a chronic form of arthritis. Though the chronic arthritis brought on by ReA is usually mild, a minority of people develop a more severe form of arthritis, or spondyloarthritis.

Related Resources

Spondylitis Plus
Your Story

Richard Howard

Posted April 2017

Richard talks with Imagine Dragons lead singer Dan Reynolds for This AS Life Live!, a series that brings together people with ankylosing spondylitis (AS) to share stories, help inspire each other, and live their best lives.

Read more…
Your Story

Never Give In

Posted September 2016

Stay Informed

Contact Us

Spondylitis Association of America

16360 Roscoe Blvd.  Ste. 100
Van Nuys, CA 91406

Email

info@spondylitis.org

Toll Free Hotline

(800) 777-8189 U.S. only
or (818) 892-1616

Give With Confidence

Independent Charities of America