Septic Arthritis (Infectious Arthritis) | Everything You Need To Know

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Septic arthritis results from bacterial or viral infection. We answer the most important questions relating to this joint condition below.
In this article:

  1. What Is Septic Arthritis?
  2. What Are the Septic Arthritis Symptoms?
  3. What Causes Septic Arthritis?
  4. Who Is at a Greater Risk of Developing Septic Arthritis?
  5. How Is Septic Arthritis Diagnosed?
  6. What Are the Septic Arthritis Treatment Options?

What You Should Know About Septic Arthritis

What Is Septic Arthritis?

Septic arthritis is another name for infectious arthritis. This type of arthritis occurs when a viral or bacterial infection spreads to a joint or the synovial fluid surrounding the joint.
Synovial Fluid Definition: A type of body fluid in the cavities of synovial joints that lessens friction between the articular cartilage of the joints during movements.
The spreading of the fluid often occurs in the bloodstream from other areas of the body. It is possible for the infection to enter the body through injections, open wounds, or surgery.
The condition is one that usually affects only one joint – typically, a larger joint such as a hip, shoulder, or knee. In rare instances, it can affect multiple joints.

What Are the Septic Arthritis Symptoms?

Symptoms of infectious arthritis vary greatly from person to person. Medication, age, and other factors may influence individual symptoms.
Common symptoms of bacterial arthritis include:

  • joint swelling due to an increased fluid inside the joint
  • fever
  • warmth – the joint is warm to the touch and may appear red due to an increased blood flow
  • extreme joint discomfort even without moving
  • chills
  • fatigue
  • irritability
  • reduced appetite
  • weakness

These symptoms often come on rapidly without any warning.

What Causes Septic Arthritis?

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The most common cause of septic arthritis is bacteria that spread from one area of the body to the joint through the bloodstream. The most common viral culprits are streptococcus and staphylococcus.
It can also be the result of a virus with several options available, including HIV, herpes viruses, hepatitis A, B, or C, and mumps.
Finally, septic arthritis may be the result of a fungal infection. These are often slower to develop than bacterial causes and may come from Histoplasma, Blastomyces, or coccidiomycosis.
RELATED: Arthritis Medication, Therapies And Self-Care Or Arthritis Medications: Your A-Z Drug Guide

Who Is at a Greater Risk of Developing Septic Arthritis?

Infectious arthritis is more common among children, older adults, and illicit drug abusers. But, some people have a heightened risk of developing the condition.
They include people who:

  • have existing joint problems such as gout, lupus, or arthritis
  • have had joint surgery in the past
  • are on immunosuppression drug therapies
  • have certain skin conditions
  • have open wounds
  • smoke
  • have cancer
  • have weakened immune systems
  • are diabetic
  • have immune deficiency disorders

Some people who appear otherwise perfectly healthy may develop the condition in the right set of circumstances, as well.

How Is Septic Arthritis Diagnosed?

Physicians often suspect infectious arthritis after asking patients a series of questions. They will then order a test, known as an arthrocentesis, to officially diagnose the condition.
An arthrocentesis involves inserting a needle into the joint where inflammation is present to remove synovial fluid. This fluid is tested to determine the white blood cell count and to culture for bacteria and other foreign matter.
This information helps determine the specific cause of the inflammation and discomfort.
Physicians may order other tests as well, such as blood tests and imaging evaluations.
Imaging tests determine whether there is joint damage and the extent of the damage. Blood tests are useful for monitoring inflammation.

What Are the Septic Arthritis Treatment Options?

Fast action is necessary when treating septic arthritis. The goal is to prevent damage to the joints and reduce the risk of developing osteoarthritis.
Septic arthritis often requires hospital admission for initial phases of treatment.
Treatment for septic arthritis is often multi-faceted. It often includes a combined treatment of powerful antibiotics along with draining of the fluid from the joint.
When this occurs, strong antibiotics are administered, intravenously, before draining the fluid, helping to avoid the spread of the infection during the process. Most people find relief from septic arthritis symptoms within 48 hours of antibiotic treatment.
If joint damage occurs as a result of infectious arthritis, the patient may require further surgery to remove damaged sections or replace the joint. And on some occasions, patients may need more aggressive treatment to remove excess fluid from the area along with infection that remains.
Once the treatment is administered and the fluid is drained, patients are often administered additional antibiotic treatments to reduce the risks of a reoccurrence. Additionally, some patients must continue treatment with anti-inflammatory drugs, joint rest, splinting, and physical therapy.
When treated promptly and aggressively, the prognosis, or outlook, for septic arthritis is good. Most people experience relief of symptoms within 48 hours of treatment beginning and have little, if any, permanent joint damage.

For more information about septic arthritis, check out this video from HealthPoint:

When it comes to septic arthritis, immediate treatment is of utmost importance. Visit your doctor right away if you experience symptoms of this illness.
It is important for adults to consume a healthy mix of daily Vitamins. We recommend this Vitamin D3 supplement.
How do you take care of your joints? Let’s talk about joint health in the comments below.
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