Which clinical history findings are characteristic of reactive arthritis (ReA)?

Updated: Dec 24, 2020
  • Author: Carlos J Lozada, MD; Chief Editor: Herbert S Diamond, MD  more...
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Reactive arthritis (ReA) usually develops 2-4 weeks after a genitourinary (GU) or gastrointestinal (GI) infection (or, possibly, a chlamydial respiratory infection [14] ). About 10% of patients do not have a preceding symptomatic infection. The classic triad of symptoms—noninfectious urethritis, arthritis, and conjunctivitis—is found in only one third of patients with ReA and has a sensitivity of 50.6% and a specificity of 98.9%. [68] In postenteric ReA, diarrhea and dysenteric syndrome (usually mild) is commonly followed by the clinical triad in 1-4 weeks.

In a large percentage of ReA cases, conjunctivitis or urethritis occurred weeks before the patient seeks medical attention. Patients may fail to mention this unless specifically asked. Musculoskeletal disease is evident in many of these patients. [69] Vague, seemingly unrelated complaints may obscure this diagnosis at times. [70]

The onset of ReA is usually acute and characterized by malaise, fatigue, and fever. An asymmetrical, predominantly lower-extremity, oligoarthritis is the major presenting symptom. Myalgias may be noted early on. Asymmetric arthralgia and joint stiffness, primarily involving the knees, ankles, and feet (the wrists may be an early target), may be noted. Low-back pain occurs in 50% of patients. [68] Heel pain associated with Achilles enthesopathies and plantar fasciitis is also common.

Both postvenereal and postenteric forms of ReA may manifest initially as nongonococcal urethritis, with frequency, dysuria, urgency, and urethral discharge; this urethritis may be mild or inapparent. Urogenital symptoms, whether resulting from GU infection or from GI infection, are found in 90% of patients with ReA. [68]

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