Reactive arthritis or post-infectious arthritis?

Best Pract Res Clin Rheumatol. 2006 Jun;20(3):419-33. doi: 10.1016/j.berh.2006.02.003.


The term 'reactive arthritis' was first used in 1969 to describe the development of sterile inflammatory arthritis as a sequel to remote infection, often in the gastrointestinal or urogenital tract. The demonstration of antigenic material (e.g. Salmonella and Yersinia lipopolysaccharide), DNA and RNA, and, in occasional cases, evidence of metabolically active Chlamydia spp. in the joints has blurred the boundary between reactive and post-infectious forms of arthritis. No validated and generally agreed diagnostic criteria exist, but the diagnosis of reactive arthritis is mainly clinical based on acute oligoarticular arthritis of larger joints that develops within 2-4 weeks of the preceding infection. In about 25% of patients, the infection can be asymptomatic. Diagnosis of the triggering infection is very helpful for the diagnosis of reactive arthritis. This is mainly achieved by isolating the triggering infection (stools, urogenital tract) by cultures (stool cultures for enteric microbes) or ligase reaction (Chlamydia trachomatis). However, after the onset of arthritis, this is less likely to be possible. Therefore, the diagnosis must rely on various serological tests to demonstrate evidence of previous infection, but, these serological tests are unfortunately not standardized. Treatment with antibiotics to cure Chlamydia infection is important, but the use of either short or prolonged courses of antibiotics in established arthritis has not been found to be effective for the cure of arthritis. The long-term outcome of reactive arthritis is usually good; however, about 25-50% of patients, depending on the triggering infections and possible new infections, subsequently develop acute arthritis. About 25% of patients proceed to chronic spondyloarthritis of varying activity.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Arthritis, Reactive / blood
  • Arthritis, Reactive / diagnosis*
  • Arthritis, Reactive / microbiology
  • Bacterial Infections / blood
  • Bacterial Infections / diagnosis*
  • Bacterial Infections / microbiology
  • Humans
  • Serologic Tests