When Arthritis is Caused By Infection: Will It Ever Go Away?


Q.: I’ve been diagnosed with reactive arthritis. Is this a chronic condition or will it go away?

A.: Most people fully recover from reactive arthritis, but it may take a few months to a year. Some people have symptoms long-term.

Reactive arthritis is joint pain and swelling triggered by an infection in another part of your body. The infection often can be cultured from the gastrointestinal tract or bladder, but not from the affected joints. Reactive arthritis occurs in some people after an infection with Chlamydia trachomatis, which is sexually transmitted, enters the bladder. Reactive arthritis also can result from infection with bacteria that enter the gastrointestinal tract from contaminated food.

Early on, reactive arthritis is treated with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as naproxen (Aleve®) or celecoxib (Celebrex®) to relieve pain and reduce swelling. Some people benefit from injections of corticosteroids. Exercise to strengthen muscles and improve flexibility also is recommended.

If symptoms continue, your doctor may prescribe a disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drug (DMARD), such as sulfasalazine or methotrexate. Stronger drugs called biologics also may be used.

— Rheumatologist Chad Deal, MD, Head of the Center for Osteoporosis and Metabolic Bone Disease, Cleveland Clinic