7 Treatments for Reactive Arthritis

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  • What Is Reactive Arthritis?

    What Is Reactive Arthritis?

    Arthritis occurs when the immune system is misdirected to attack the joints, causing swelling and pain in your joints. Reactive arthritis occurs when an infection in your body triggers this immune response. The infection is usually not in the affected joint, but is elsewhere in the body, such as the gut or bladder. Reactive arthritis, previously called Reiter’s syndrome, is most common in men between ages 20 and 50.

  • Symptoms of Reactive Arthritis

    Symptoms of Reactive Arthritis

    Symptoms of reactive arthritis usually occur in three clusters. Joint pain, stiffness, or pain in the heel (Achilles tendon) is common. You may have bladder symptoms, including a burning sensation when urinating or needing to urinate more often. You can also get conjunctivitis, or swollen eyelids. This can be accompanied by redness, itching or burning, and discharge.

    Symptoms usually last 3-12 months, although about 15-20 percent of people develop chronic arthritis.

  • Treat the Main Infection

    Treat the Main Infection

    In order to stop the immune system reaction, you have to treat the main infection. Work with your doctor to find out where the infection is and how to treat it. If the infection is bacterial, then antibiotics will clear up most infections. Which antibiotic you take will depend on which kind of bacterial infection you have. Your doctor may need to run tests to find out. Viral and fungal infections are harder to treat.

  • Take NSAIDs for Swelling and Joint Pain

    Take NSAIDs for Swelling and Joint Pain

    Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) can help relieve the pain and inflammation from arthritis. Over-the-counter NSAIDs include ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin, and others), naproxen (Aleve), and diclofenac (Voltaren). If these don’t work, your doctor may prescribe different NSAIDs, such as indomethacin (Indocin) or celecoxib (Celebrex).

    NSAIDs carry the risk of causing stomach bleeding. Always take NSAIDs with food.  Your doctor will help you evaluate the risks.

  • Steroids Can Help Swelling

    Steroids Can Help Swelling

    If the NSAIDs aren’t enough to get the inflammation under control, your doctor may give you corticosteroid (such as Cortisone) injections. Steroids suppress the immune system, slowing its attack on the body. Unfortunately, steroids don’t slow down the progress of the arthritis itself.

  • DMARDs Protect Your Joints

    DMARDs Protect Your Joints

    To treat the arthritis directly, your doctor may give you disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs), such as sulfasalazine or methotrexate. DMARDs do not directly help the pain or inflammation, but they can slow the progression of the arthritis.

    Since arthritis damages joints slowly over time, taking DMARDs can help protect your joints from this damage.

  • TNF Blockers: A New Treatment

    TNF Blockers: A New Treatment

    Another, newer alternative treatment is tumor necrosis factor (TNF) blockers. TNF is a protein that is part of your body’s inflammatory response in arthritis. TNF blockers interfere with this protein, relieving pain and stiffness and helping swollen or tender joints.

    TNF blockers include etanercept (Enbrel) and infliximab (Remicade). Each TNF blocker works in a different way, so if one doesn’t help, another might.

  • Physical Therapy and Exercise

    Physical Therapy and Exercise

    Exercise can help improve your joint function. A physical therapist can give you exercise routines that will help build up your strength. Strengthening the muscles around your joints helps support them. Range-of-motion exercises improve flexibility and reduce stiffness. Water exercise may also be a good way to exercise without weight bearing by your joints. Heat and cold therapy may also help. Heat reduces pain and soreness, and cold helps swelling.

  • Immunosuppressant Drugs

    Immunosuppressant Drugs

    In very rare cases, when nothing else works, doctors may prescribe immunosuppressant drugs to treat reactive arthritis. These drugs partially shut down your entire immune system. They will slow its attack on the body, but also prevent it from defending properly itself against infections.  You might become immunocompromised, meaning you are vulnerable to infections that most people could resist. For this reason, immunosuppressant drugs are not commonly used to treat reactive arthritis.