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What You Need to Know About Infectious Arthritis?

Infectious arthritis or Septic arthritis is painful swelling of joints caused by bacteria. This occurs when an injury or a cut delivers bacteria directly to the joint through blood.

Infectious arthritis can affect both children and adults. Septic arthritis is a severe illness that needs medical attention as soon as possible.

What are the Symptoms of Infectious Arthritis?

Infectious arthritis commonly affects knees, shoulders, and hips, often one joint. Symptoms include:

  • Joint pain
  • Joint swelling
  • Fever
  • Inability to move the affected joint

The pain felt with infectious arthritis is more severe than normal arthritis. Consult your doctor immediately if the onset of pain is sudden and severe.

How Do You Develop Infectious Arthritis?

Infection from bacteria is the most common cause of septic arthritis. The bacteria can enter the joint in different ways, such as,

  • Open fracture
  • Injury or cuts
  • Bloodstream
  • Infection of the skin or tissues
  • During surgery

Bacterial infections progress quickly and can destroy a joint if not treated.

How Is Infectious Arthritis Diagnosed?

Diagnosis of infectious arthritis begins with a physical examination of the affected joint. Your doctor will also ask about the symptoms you have experienced and medical history.

For accurate diagnosis, you doctor will suggest certain tests like:

  • Blood tests - To check for the presence of bacteria
  • Removal of joint fluid - To check for white blood cells and bacteria
  • X-rays or MRI
  • Phlegm, spinal fluid, and urine tests - To find the source of infection

Early diagnosis can help you to minimize the extent of the damage.

What are the treatment options for infectious arthritis?

Treatment depends on the age, symptoms, and severity of the condition.

  • Infectious arthritis needs immediate treatment with antibiotics, improving symptoms within 48 hours. However, you might need IV antibiotics for 2–4 weeks, depending on the severity of the condition. 
  • Doctors may also perform fluid drainage from the affected joint to remove pathogens
  • Physiotherapy is advised to regain muscle strength and functionality

Risk Factors for Infectious Arthritis:

The risk factors for infectious arthritis include:

  • Blood infections
  • Joint problems
  • Weak immune system
  • History of joint surgery
  • Smoking or Alcohol consumption
  • Open wounds
  • Diabetes mellitus
  • HIV
  • Lung or liver disorders

Is Infectious arthritis an emergency?

Yes! Infectious arthritis can be life-threatening as it causes permanent damage to the joint if not treated quickly.

If the infection spreads to the bloodstream it can be serious and causes low blood pressure that affects the heart.

The faster you get treated, the better the outcomes.

How long does it take to recover from infectious arthritis?

Recovery depends on the severity of your infection and the amount of damage to the joint. Most people start to feel better within days of starting antibiotics.

To best recover from septic arthritis:

  • Complete the prescribed course of antibiotics to avoid repeated infections
  • Actively participate in your rehab program as recommended
  • Follow up with your doctor for 1 to 2 weeks

Steps to improve recovery:

Gentle movement of the affected joint helps faster recovery and prevents long-term stiffness or restricted activities.

Other steps that help with recovery include-

  • Resting from time to time to reduce the stress on the affected joint
  • Raising the joint above the heart level for reduction of swelling and pain
  • Applying ice packs for around 20 minutes to reduce swelling