Reactive Arthritis - Symptoms and Signs

Last Updated on Sep 25, 2018
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Symptoms and Signs

There are several symptoms associated with Reactive Arthritis but the symptoms associated with polyarthritis such as pain, swelling and heat in the joints, dominates the clinical scenario.

The symptoms and signs of Reactive Arthritis can be divided into those that affect the joints and those that affect the non-joint areas of the body.

Joint Symptoms & Signs

The joints that may get involved include the knees, ankles, feet, and wrists. Usually these involvements are asymmetric e.g. if it is knee on the left side it maybe wrist on the other side and this may not happen simultaneously.

The arthritis leads to inflammation of the joints and this manifests as

  • Stiffness,
  • Pain,
  • Swelling,
  • Warmth,
  • Redness of the joints involved.
  • If fingers get involved it can look like a "sausage digit."

Spine can sometimes get involved leading to pain and stiffness in the neck or back.

If cartilage joints are involved it causes pain in the front section of the chest called costochondritis.

If tendons get involved it cause tendinitis e.g. the heel or knee may get involved.

Non- Joint Symptoms & Signs

Inflammation of non-joints regions of the body especially Urethra and conjunctiva of the eyes is typical of Reactive Arthritis. However other regions can also get involved and include bladder, prostate gland, mouth lining, large bowel, aorta and the iris of the eye (iritis).

Symptoms & signs when the genital region is ionvolved include-

  • Stinging or burning sensation when passing urine
  • Urgency and Frequency of urine
  • Inflammation of penis underneath the foreskin

In women the genital infection can additionally lead to

  • Cervicitis
  • Vulvovaginitis
  • Salpingitis

Eye involvement causes -

  • Irritation in the eye
  • Photophobia or pain when looking into bright lights

Mouth ulceration may be present but these are usually painless

Bowel involvement or colitis can cause diarrhea

Reactive Arthritis symptoms generally appear within a month of the trigerring episode.

Other symptoms associated with Reactive Arthritis include-

  • Fever, weight loss, fatigue and loss of appetite.
  • Penile lesions in men (circinate balanitis)
  • Rashes at the bottom of the feet (keratoderma blennorrhagica)

Genital lesions usually occur when the Reactive Arthritis is sexually induced or when it is associated with enteric organism Shigella.

Rare Complications of Reactive Arthritis include

Heart problems such as:

  • Aortic Valve dysfunction leading to heart murmer and failure
  • Heart conduction problems - arrhythmias
  • Pericarditis (inflammation of outer lining of heart)

Lung problems such as:

  • Pneumonia
  • Pulmonary fibrosis
  • Pleural effusion or Fluid in the lung

Nervous system problems such as:

  • Tingling or loss of sensation or Neuropathy

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I have had Reiter's for approximately 30 years. I am in severe pain at least two months a year. Right now, it is busy chewing up my heart. A person can do many sports provided they avoid flares. On a day to day basis, I use Celebrex, and, Indocin when I need something more.


My partner has informed me that he has Reiters Syndrome and we have been having an intimate relationship. I have very very sore ankles and thought this was due to my jogging along the beach. Can you tell me if this is sexually transmitted and even though he hasn't had any symptoms for 5 years is he contagious.

"The Peanut Butter Kid" alias Mike Thomas was one of many who contracted salmonella through peanut butter. His case/health is very severe right from the beginning. Mike is also going before a panel of our Representitives in Washington DC in early Feb. of this year. This is his 2nd appearance before a committee to put pressure on these people to enact more severe legislation to prevent future outbreaks of salmonella and resulting diseases like Reactive Arthritis. Repeat outbreaks from Peanut Butter is just not tolerable. Men, women and most of all kids and babies are dying from the lack of enforcement and the agriculteral industries. Mike Thomas found me on this site. I believe and he contacted me about his own suffering and relating it to my own suffering for over 20 years. It is truly great to be able to talk to someone who has this disease and realize we are not alone and can make a difference in other lives.
Be looking in Feb. for news articles about Mike Thomas and his appearance before the govn't committees that regulate the health industry. Blessing on all who suffer, we can make a difference. Mitchell Fagan, Duluth, GA

Dear Steve it sounds like you went through the same thing I did. I was crippled for 3 months, bedridden but slowly I moved forward and went back to work on crutches and a wheelchair. It was very painful but I worked for some incredible people. I had a cedar lounge chair put by my workplace and started by working just one hour at a time and collapsing in the lounge chair to relieve my pain. Before long about 2 years into it I was able to work a full time period and continued on for 20 years. But like you Steve, it just became to much to handle and that's when I looked into SSDI. The thing is Steve you have to have not worked for 1 year before they will look into your case. YOU MUST have a LAWYER!!!!!! You will have to document everything from the past to present with all your Doctors writing letters of your incapcity and that you will never improve with your disease. Even then it will go through many SSDI adjudicators/lawyers till you see a Judge in the end to decide your case. Also look into their BlueBook for Reiter's and you will find it is a listing of diseases they will consider for disability.


I have had the same problems and was linked to Petter Pan Peanut Butter. Does anyone know how I could contact The Peanut Butter Kid!!! I really need to find anyone that has doctored for this and may know of treatments the doctors have done everything and looked for everything, I have had every one of these problems and it looks to be of the same bad batch of PB.

The story of Reiter's is a long one and many doctor's fail to see the whole picture of the diesease and are thus unable to diagnosis it. I had a period of over 1 to 2 years before it was diagnosed, and that was over 20 years ago. It has been chronic in me also for 20 years and it took a while before the drug therapies really began to take off in relieving the many problems and pain associated with the disease. One the use of anti-depressants Cymbalta, muscle relaxers, Lyrica, and more have helped me to live out each day, Before I worked for many years with exhaustive pain and stress aging me fast. I became fully disabled 5 years ago at the age of 50 and am now living on SSDI which in itself took more than 4 years for Social Security to declare me disabled. I hope everyone out there with the disease is getting similar treatment that I receive and that Doctor's will not hold back on narcotic drugs too to help with this incurable disease. I pray for all, patients, doctors and researchers that one day a cure will be found. God Bless you all and patients remember to take it one moment at a time, there can be serenity and life beyond this disease. Thanks for letting me sound off, Mitchell Fagan, Duluth, Georgia.


I read your post and really relate as I'm having a hard time trying to work with the pain, I don't think I can go much longer as it just takes it out of me. I think I need to get on SSDI at this point, I'm sure I qualified years ago, I wanted to work though but I can't keep up anymore. My blood work and joint damage are there for them to see but will it take that long to get help? St. Pete, Florida.

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