How is reactive arthritis (ReA) treated?

Updated: Dec 24, 2020
  • Author: Carlos J Lozada, MD; Chief Editor: Herbert S Diamond, MD  more...
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No curative treatment for reactive arthritis (ReA) exists. Instead, treatment aims at relieving symptoms and is based on symptom severity. Almost two thirds of patients have a self-limited course and need no treatment other than symptomatic and supportive care. As many as 30% of patients develop chronic symptoms, posing a therapeutic challenge. [91]

Physical therapy, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and intralesional corticosteroids may be helpful for joint, tendon, and fascial inflammation. Low-dose prednisone may be prescribed, but prolonged treatment is not advisable. Antibiotics may be given to treat underlying infection. Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) such as sulfasalazine and methotrexate may be used safely and are often beneficial. No specific surgical treatment is indicated.

Hospitalization of a patient with uncomplicated ReA is not usually indicated. Inpatient care may be considered for patients who are unable to tolerate oral administration of medications, who are unable to ambulate because of significant joint involvement, who have intractable pain, or who have concomitant disease necessitating admission.

Few treatment options exist for HIV-infected patients with severe ReA. Treatment of ReA in the setting of HIV infection poses special problems. However, potentially immunosuppressive therapies (eg, cyclosporine, methotrexate, and psoralen plus ultraviolet A [PUVA]) have been used in some cases, with variable success and relatively few severe complications. A case report from the United Kingdom suggests that antiretroviral therapy may be considered in HIV-infected ReA patients who are unresponsive to standard therapy. [92]

No dietary limitations are necessary unless the patient is receiving steroid therapy. Efforts should be made to maintain joint function with physical activity, joint protection, and suppression of inflammation. Physical therapy may be instituted to avoid muscle wasting and to reduce pain in severe cases. Although no limitations on physical activity need be imposed, symptoms of arthritis will usually limit patients’ activity to some extent.

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