Treating reactive arthritis
Your doctor may recommend a multi-pronged approach to treating reactive arthritis. Arthritis is when your immune system misdirects to attack your joints, causing pain and swelling.
Reactive arthritis can be caused by infection. This infection can cause a misdirected immune system response.
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Reactive arthritis is incurable. However, symptoms may go into remission without the need for treatment unless there is a flare-up. Reactive arthritis treatment can be used to relieve symptoms.
- Treatment of the primary infection with medication
Reactive arthritis is an autoimmune reaction that can’t be treated with antibiotics. Antibiotics may be prescribed to treat a bacterial infection that is affecting your gastrointestinal tract or urinary system. The type of bacteria you have will determine which antibiotic you choose. To determine the exact cause of your infection, your doctor might need to perform tests. It is more difficult to treat viral and fungal infections.
- NSAIDs to reduce swelling and pain in the joints
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAIDs), can be used to relieve arthritis pain and inflammation. There are several over-the-counter NSAIDs available:
- ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB)
- naproxen (Aleve, Anaprox, Naprosyn)
- diclofenac, Voltaren
These may not work. Your doctor might prescribe other NSAIDs such as celecoxib (Celebrex) or indomethacin (“Tivorbex”) if they don’t. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding so make sure to take them with food. Any potential risks can be assessed by your doctor.
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- Steroids to reduce swelling
Your doctor may recommend corticosteroid injections if NSAIDs don’t work. Steroids can suppress your immune system and slow down the body’s attack. Steroids don’t stop the progression of arthritis.
- Protect your joints with DMARDs
Your doctor may prescribe you disease-modifying antirheumatic drug (DMARDs) to treat your arthritis. These drugs include sulfasalazine, Azulfidine, and methotrexate. DMARDs can not directly relieve pain or inflammation, but they can slow down the progression of your arthritis. Because arthritis can slowly damage joints over time, DMARDs can protect your joints.
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Off-label drug use is when DMARDs are used to treat reactive arthritis. Off-label drug usage is when a drug approved by FDA for one purpose can be used for another purpose that has not been approved.
Another treatment option is to block tumor necrosis factor (TNF). TNF is part of the body’s inflammation response to arthritis. TNF-blockers block this protein, which can relieve stiffness and pain as well as tender or swollen joints.
Infliximab and Enbrel are two examples of TNF-blockers. Each TNF inhibitor works differently, so if one does not work, the other might.
- Exercise and physical therapy
Your joint function can be improved by exercising. To help you build your strength, a physical therapist will recommend exercises.
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Support your joints by strengthening the muscles surrounding them. Exercises that increase range of motion improve flexibility and decrease stiffness. Water exercise can be a great way to get moving without putting stress on your joints.