What is the role of antibiotics in the treatment of reactive arthritis (ReA)?

Updated: Dec 24, 2020
  • Author: Carlos J Lozada, MD; Chief Editor: Herbert S Diamond, MD  more...
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The current view of the pathogenesis of ReA indicates that an infectious agent is the trigger of the disease, but antibiotic treatment does not change the course of the disease, even when a microorganism is isolated. In these cases, antibiotics are used to treat the underlying infection, but specific treatment guidelines for ReA are lacking.

However, in Chlamydia -induced ReA, studies have suggested that appropriate treatment of the acute genitourinary (GU) infection can prevent ReA and that treatment of acute ReA with a 3-month course of tetracycline reduces the duration of illness. Empiric antibiotics may be considered after appropriate cultures have been taken. Nongonococcal urethritis and other infections can be treated specifically with systemic antibiotics. In the absence of contraindications, treatment of urethritis is recommended, even if improvement is not certain.

Although urethritis and cervicitis are commonly treated with antibiotics, diarrhea generally is not. No evidence indicates that antibiotic therapy benefits enteric-related ReA or chronic ReA of any cause.

Long-term antibiotic therapy may be warranted in cases of poststreptococcal ReA; however, this is currently a controversial topic. [88, 89]

Lymecycline (a tetracycline available outside the United States) was studied in a double-blind placebo-controlled study of patients with chronic ReA for a treatment period of 3 months. [24] The duration of illness was significantly shorter in patients with Chlamydia -induced disease than in those with disease triggered by enteric infections.

Azithromycin was shown to be ineffective in a placebo-controlled trial. [101] Nevertheless, in another study, azithromycin or doxycycline in combination with rifampin for 6 months was reported to be significantly superior to placebo and significantly improved symptoms associated with Chlamydia-induced ReA. [102]

Quinolones have been studied because of their broad coverage, but no clear benefit has been reported. [103] In a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study of 56 patients with recent-onset ReA, 3 months of treatment with a combination of ofloxacin and roxithromycin was not better than placebo in improving outcomes.

More studies are needed before definite recommendations can be made for the role of antibiotics in the management of ReA. [104]

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