Reiter’s Syndrome – Causes, Risk factors, Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment, Prevention

(Reactive arthritis)

What is Reiter's Syndrome

Reiter's syndrome, also know as Reactive arthritis  is an inflammatory reaction to an infection somewhere in the body. It usually appears after an infection of the urinary tract, the genital or digestive tract. Symptoms of the disorder, mainly, appear:

  • In The joints
  • In The eyes
  • In The urinary or genital tract

Reiter's Syndrome Causes

Reiter syndrome is triggered by certain infections in a person who has genetic sensitivity. The infection, commonly, begins in the urinary tract or the genital tract. It is usually caused by a bacterium called Chlamydia trachomatis. It is transmitted between people through sexual activity.

The infection can also start in the digestive system. In these cases, the infection manifests itself after eating food contaminated with the bacteria, usually Shigella, Yersinia or Campylobacter.

Approximately 1 to 4 weeks after infection, a susceptible person may manifest Reiter's syndrome. Doctors do not know why some people manifest the disease and others do not. Most patients with the condition carry a specific genetic factor called HLA-B27 (or the B27 gene).

Reiter's Syndrome Risk factors

The factors that increase the risk of suffering from Reiter syndrome are:

  • Family members with Reiter's syndrome
  • Inheritance of the genetic trait associated with Reiter's syndrome (HLA-B27)
  • Having a chlamydial infection or an infection in the digestive system

Reiter's Syndrome Symptoms

Symptoms occur in three main areas of the body: the joints, the eyes, and the urinary and genital tracts. Men and women may experience different symptoms. The disease may be milder in women. These can appear and disappear. In infrequent cases, cardiac problems may manifest in the later stages of the disease.

Specific symptoms include the following:

In the joints:

  • Inflammation, pain and redness, especially in the knees, ankles and feet
  • Heel pain
  • Back pain and stiffness

In the eyes:

  • Redness
  • Burning
  • Irritation
  • Blurry vision
  • Lachrymation
  • Secretion
  • In the urinary tract and the reproductive system

In men:

  • Frequent urination
  • Burning sensation when urine passes
  • Penile secretion
  • Sores on the penis

In women:

  • Burning sensation when urine passes
  • Inflammation in the vagina and cervix

Other symptoms include:

  • Rash, especially on the palms of the hands or soles of the feet
  • Ulcers in the mouth or tongue
  • Weightloss
  • Lack of appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Fever

Reiter's Syndrome Diagnosis

The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. You will have a physical exam. You will use these results as an aid in making the diagnosis. There is no specific test to verify the existence of Reiter's syndrome.

Your doctor may need to analyze your body fluids and tissues. This can be done through:

  • Blood test
  • Culture, Gram stain or other tests
  • Extraction of synovial fluid

Your doctor may need to obtain images of your body structures. This can be done through radiographs.

Reiter's Syndrome Treatment

There is no cure for Reiter's syndrome. Most patients recover from the initial episode, within 12 months. But some manifest mild and chronic arthritis. Certain patients suffer from additional episodes of the disorder.

The treatment is aimed at relieving the symptoms and may include:

  • Rest in Bed
  • Short-term rest to relieve joint strain
  • Protection of the joints

That means:

  • Assistive devices as recommended by your doctor
  • Occupational therapy to learn how to relieve joint strain during daily activities


Your doctor may prescribe some of the following:

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as naproxen or ibuprofen
  • Sulfasalazine
  • Injections of steroids in inflamed joints
  • Topical cream steroids applied to skin lesions
  • In certain cases, antibiotics to treat the triggering infection

Immunosuppressive medications (medications that decrease the ability of the immune system to function):

  • Azathioprine
  • Methotrexate
  • Eye drops

How to Prevent Reiter's Syndrome

The key to preventing Reiter's syndrome is to avoid the triggering infection. To do so, follow the steps below:

Avoid sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) by refraining from sexual intercourse or by engaging in safe sexual activity, including:

  1. Always use a latex condom during sexual activity
  2. Ask the sexual partner about a history of sexual diseases
  3. Have sex only with one person, who has sex only with you
  4. Do not exchange sexual partners
  5. Submit to regular checkups to detect STDs
  6. Take measures to prevent urogenital infections due to chlamydia:
  7. If you are a woman and are 25 years old or younger, get screened for chlamydia on an annual basis.
  8. If you are pregnant, take chlamydia tests.
  9. If you are a man and have sex with men, take annual exams.
  10. Avoid intestinal infections:
    • Wash your hands before eating or handling food
    • Only eat foods that were properly stored and prepared

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