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What is it?

Reactive arthritis, previously known as Reiter’s syndrome or disease, is so-called because it normally occurs as a reaction to an infection. It appears at between one and four weeks after the infection. It is a combination of three symptoms:

  1. Arthritis – pain, redness and swelling affecting a small number of joints, most often large joints such as the knee.
  2. Uveitis or conjunctivitis – inflammation of the coating of the eye (conjunctiva) or the front chamber of the eye. Conjunctivitis causes redness and itching. Uveitis is more serious and causes pain and blurring as well as redness.
  3. Urethritis – inflammation of the tube that connects the bladder to the outside of the body (urethra). This causes a discharge which will be seen at the tip of the penis or in the vagina. It also causes pain on passing urine.

The exact mechanism of reactive arthritis is unclear but it is believed that either the body reacts against itself (autoimmune) or fragments of the infection get into the joint to cause inflammation.

The most common infection that triggers reactive arthritis is chlamydia. It can also occur after other sexually transmitted diseases or after gastroenteritis (food poisoning).

Most people with reactive arthritis have a gene which makes them susceptible. This is called HLA-B27.

Last Review Date: May 26, 2023

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