Symptoms of reactive arthritis

The symptoms of reactive arthritis usually develop two to four weeks after an infection.

In most cases, reactive arthritis follows a sexually transmitted infection (STI) such as chlamydia, or a digestive infection such as food poisoning.

The three parts of the body most commonly affected by reactive arthritis are:

  • the joints and tendons
  • the urinary system
  • the eyes

Joints and tendons

Reactive arthritis usually involves inflammation of the joints (arthritis) and tendons, which can cause symptoms of:

  • joint pain and swelling, usually in weight-bearing joints such as your knees, ankles and hips
  • lower back and buttock pain
  • heel pain
  • swelling of your fingers and toes

The urinary system

Reactive arthritis can sometimes also cause inflammation of the urethra (urethritis), which is the tube that carries urine out of the body. Symptoms of urethritis include:

  • pain or a burning sensation during urination
  • urinating more often than usual
  • having a sudden urge to urinate
  • a discharge of fluid from the penis or vagina
  • blood in your urine (less commonly)

The eyes

Reactive arthritis may also cause inflammation of the eyes (conjunctivitis). Symptoms of conjunctivitis include:

  • reddening of the eyes
  • watery eyes
  • eye pain
  • swollen eye lids

In rare cases, a type of uveitis called iritis can occur. Eyes affected by iritis can be painful, red and sensitive to light. If you have these symptoms, you should see your doctor or an eye specialist as soon as possible.

Other symptoms of reactive arthritis

Reactive arthritis can also cause several other symptoms, including:

  • feeling unusually tired (fatigue)
  • mild fever (a high temperature between 37-38°C or 98.6-101.0°F)
  • mouth ulcers
  • painless white rashes inside your mouth
  • a skin rash
  • your nails can become thick and crumbly
  • abdominal pain
  • bouts of diarrhoea

When to seek medical advice

It’s recommended you contact your GP if you have any swollen and painful joints, especially if you have recently had diarrhoea or problems passing urine.

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