Reactive Arthritis: What is it and Causes: Sometimes arthritis develops not as a chronic, degenerative disease which you may have to manage for the rest of your life, but rather as a reaction to an infection (viral or bacterial, including STDs) which has taken place anywhere in your body. Some think that is can also be a reaction to a psychological or emotional trigger and, occasionally, to some types of food poisoning; either way, this type of arthritis can be treated and, if so, its attacks do not last for long periods of time (it usually lasts anytime between 3 and 12 months). It can occur at any age at in both genders, though there seem to be more incidents in the younger population.
Symptoms: joint swelling and joint pain (fingers and toes in particular but it can affect any joints); inflamed tendons, occasional redness and inflammation of your eye/s with occasional blurred vision (always hurry to your doctor if your have these eye symptoms no matter what the diagnosis can be). Other symptoms may include patches of scaly skin (hands, feet or elsewhere), mouth ulcers, flu-like symptoms and, occasionally, some genitourinary symptoms (discharge or rashes). You may experience sudden acute symptoms but generally they tend to develop more slowly, over a few days or even weeks; they can be mild or severe.
Diagnosis: the bad news is that reactive arthritis is at present still relatively difficult to diagnose since so far there is no test (yet) which can confirm the condition with certainty. An experienced practitioner will ask you a variety of questions which may help him/her deduce that you may indeed be suffering from reactive arthritis.
Treatments: Treating the cause, the trigger of reactive arthritis will be the primary and initial stage of treatment. So, if your cause was an infection and this infection is still active, treating the infection will be the initial treatment; so, for example, if the triggering infection is bacterial, then antibiotics may be prescribed if necessary. The second stage of the treatment is similar to that of other forms of arthritis and, in traditional medicine, they tend to be non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), or even steroids (both targeting the inflammation in the affected areas, but steroids are to be avoided long-term due to their side-effects); you may also be prescribed disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) in case your reactive arthritis lasts longer than a few months but, unfortunately, many of work by lowering the activity of your immune system in general and (in my opinion) they are to be used as a last-resort (as with steroids); bluntly put, I have never touched them despite my arthritic condition. On the other hand, those preferring the traditional medicine route would argue that DMARDs drugs may be able to minimize the damage done to your body in the short and long run and for this reasons they are at times prescribed as early as possible in the course of the disease.
What you can do by yourself right now:
Acute attack/s: if you suffer from a particularly painful arthritic attack, your joints (or indeed the whole of your body) may need some rest, so avoiding movement until the acute phase subsides may be indicated. During an acute attack you may need ice packs or heat pads (or you can use alternatively, whatever necessary to relieve joint swelling and pain). If you need to undertake activity, make sure you don’t exert yourself at any time. If you need to take traditional drugs (as mentioned above), don’t be afraid to discuss them at length with your doctor and make sure you are aware of any potential side effects; find out what other types of treatment, from alternative medicine or natural/herbal supplements, for example, you can take to help you during this acute attack (if you choose not to use traditional medicine – but always discuss this with your doctor).
Non-acute phase of reactive arthritis: as soon as you can, resume exercise, best if it’s low-impact exercise. Exercise is essential to strengthen muscles around the affected areas and to keep the joints moving. One of the best forms is swimming in a heated pool, since this will soothe your body (the warmer water) and support it during movement. Another form of exercise to regain flexibility is stretching; if you are a beginner, begin with simple stretching exercises: you don’t have to take up yoga (though it would be very useful) but you can ask your physiotherapist or your local gym instructor about what type of gentle stretching is beneficial in your case. Never overdo it and start with as little as a few minutes a day, increasing the time as the days go by; when in doubt, ask a qualified person. I will, in time, add a section on the appropriate type of exercises you can undertake if you suffer from all forms of arthritis.
If you can, keep working and keep your mind busy. Giving up and becoming immobile is the biggest mistake you could be making.
Note: it is really interesting, from a homeopathic point of view, how reactive arthritis is so linked to all forms of chronic arthritis. As you may have already found out reading other pages of this site, homeopathy often seeks the triggers for all forms of arthritis in order to treat the disease.
Since this website is dedicated to how alternative medicine (including and especially homeopathy) can greatly help you if you suffer from arthritis, including this type of reactive arthritis, you can find a large section of homeopathic remedies on this page.
Other alternatives treatments for the management of reactive arthritis (and other forms of arthritis) can be found on this page.