Reactive arthritis, formerly known asReiter's syndrome,is a condition that causes inflammation (redness and swelling)in variousplaces inthe body.

It usually develops following an infection, and in most cases clears up in a few months withoutcausing long-term problems.

The three most common placesaffected by reactive arthritisare:

  • the joints ( Arthritis ) , which can causepain, stiffness and swelling
  • the eyes ( conjunctivitis ) , which can causeeye pain and redness
  • the urethra( non-gonococcal urethritis ) , which can cause pain when urinating (the urethrais the tube that carries urine out of the body)

However,most people will not experience all of these problems.

Seeking medical advice

Seeyour GP ifyou haveswollen and painful joints, especially if you have recently hadsymptoms of an infection such as diarrhoea or pain when passing urine.

There is no single test for reactive arthritis, although blood and urine tests, genital swabsand X-rays may be used to check forinfection and rule out other causes of your symptoms.

Your GP will also want to know about your recent medical history,such as whether you may have recently had abowel infection or an STI.

How reactive arthritis is treated

There is currently no cure for reactive arthritis, but most people get better in around six months. Meanwhile, treatment can help to relieve symptoms such as pain and stiffness.

Symptoms canoften be controlled using non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and painkillers such as ibuprofen .

Severe symptomsmayrequire more powerful steroid medication ( corticosteroids ) or disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs).


Who is affected

Reactive arthritis can occur at any age, but it most commonly affects young adults aged 20-40.

Men are generally affected more than woman particularly in cases linked to STIs, which are estimated to be about 10 times more common in men.

People who have a certain gene called HLA-B27, which is found in around one in every 10 people in theUK,are about thought to be around 50 times more likely to develop reactive arthritis than those who don't have this gene.

Preventing reactive arthritis

The most effective way to reduce your risk of reactive arthritis is to avoid the STIs andbowel infections that most commonlycause the condition.

The most effective way of preventing STIs is to always use a barrier method of contraception , such as a condom , during sex with a new partner.

Read adviceon STIs , contraception and sexual health .

Ensuring good standards of hygiene when preparing and storing food can help to prevent gastrointestinal infections.Read about food safety and preventing food poisoning .

Content supplied by the NHS Website

Medically Reviewed by a doctor on 29 Nov 2016