What is septic arthritis?
Septic arthritis is a painful infection in a joint. The infection can come from germs that travel through your bloodstream from another part of your body. Septic arthritis can also occur when a penetrating injury delivers germs directly into the joint.
Infants and older adults are most likely to develop septic arthritis. Knees are most commonly affected, but septic arthritis also can affect hips, shoulders and other joints. The infection can quickly and severely damage the cartilage and bone within the joint, so prompt treatment is crucial.
Treatment involves draining the joint with a needle or surgically. Antibiotics also are usually needed to treat the infection.
How common is septic arthritis?
The incidence of septic arthritis has been estimated at 2 to 10 cases per 100,000 in the general population and as high as 30 to 70 cases per 100,000 in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.
What are the symptoms of septic arthritis?
The common symptoms of this condition are:
- Extreme discomfort and difficulty using the affected joint
- Swollen, red and warmjoint
There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.
When should I see my doctor?
You should contact your doctor if you have any of the following:
Have sudden onset of severe pain in a joint. Prompt treatment can help minimize joint damage.
What causes septic arthritis?
Septic arthritis can be caused by bacterial, viral or fungal infections. Bacterial infection with Staphylococcus aureus (staph) is the most common cause. Staph commonly lives on even healthy skin.
Septic arthritis can develop when an infection, such as a skin infection or urinary tract infection, spreads through your bloodstream to a joint. Less commonly, a puncture wound, drug injection, or surgery in or near a joint can give the germs entry into the joint space.
The lining of your joints (synovium) has little ability to protect itself from infection. Your body’s reaction to the infection — including inflammation that can increase pressure and reduce blood flow within the joint — contributes to the damage.
What increases my risk for septic arthritis?
There are many risk factors for septic arthritis, such as:
- Existing joint problems. Chronic diseases and conditions that affect your joints — such as osteoarthritis, gout, rheumatoid arthritis or lupus — can increase your risk of septic arthritis, as can an artificial joint, previous joint surgery and joint injury.
- Taking medications for rheumatoid arthritis. People with rheumatoid arthritis have a further increase in risk because of medications they take that can suppress the immune system, making infections more likely to occur. Diagnosing septic arthritis in people with rheumatoid arthritis is difficult because many of the signs and symptoms are similar.
- Skin fragility. Skin that breaks easily and heals poorly can give bacteria access to your body. Skin conditions such as psoriasis and eczema increase your risk of septic arthritis, as do infected skin wounds. People who regularly inject drugs also have a higher risk of infection at the site of injection.
- Weak immune system. People with a weak immune system are at greater risk of septic arthritis. This includes people with diabetes, kidney and liver problems, and those taking drugs that suppress their immune systems.
- Joint trauma. Animal bites, puncture woods or cuts over a joint can put you at risk of septic arthritis.
Diagnosis & treatment
The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.
How is septic arthritis diagnosed?
The following tests typically help diagnose septic arthritis:
- Joint fluid analysis. Infections can alter the color, consistency, volume and makeup of the fluid within your joints. A sample of this fluid can be withdrawn from your affected joint with a needle. Laboratory tests can determine what organism is causing your infection, so your doctor will know which medications to prescribe.
- Blood tests. These can determine if there are signs of infection in your blood. A sample of your blood is removed from a vein with a needle.
- Imaging tests. X-rays and other imaging tests of the affected joint can assess damage to the joint.
How is septic arthritis treated?
Doctors rely on joint drainage and antibiotic drugs to treat septic arthritis.
Removing the infected joint fluid is crucial. Drainage methods include:
- In some cases, your doctor can withdraw the infected fluid with a needle inserted into the joint space.
- Scope procedure. In arthroscopy (ahr-THROS-kuh-pee), a flexible tube with a video camera at its tip is placed in your joint through a small incision. Suction and drainage tubes are then inserted through small incisions around your joint.
- Open surgery. Some joints, such as the hip, are more difficult to drain with a needle or arthroscopy, so an open surgical procedure might be necessary.
To select the most effective medication, your doctor must identify the microbe causing your infection. Antibiotics are usually given through a vein in your arm at first. Later, you may be able to switch to oral antibiotics.
Typically, treatment lasts from two to six weeks. Antibiotics carry a risk of side effects, including nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Allergic reactions also can occur. Ask your doctor about what side effects to expect from your medication.
Lifestyle changes & Home remedies
What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage septic arthritis?
The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with septic arthritis:
- Get plenty of regular exercise to keep pounds off and reduce arthritis pain and stiffness.
- Eat a healthy diet. Stick to low-fat, low-calorie foods and plan your meals and snacks to be sure you’re getting lots of fruits and vegetables through your diet.
- Get vitamin C. Studies have shown that vitamin C may be helpful in managing inflammation in the body. So dig into an orange or pour yourself a glass of grapefruit juice each day.
- Keep track of your weight. Even a few extra pounds can worsen arthritis pain, so talk to your doctor to determine your healthiest weight. Focus on that number as your goal, and track your weight loss until you reach it.
- Avoid alcohol. Don’t medicate yourself with alcohol to manage pain; it will only create more problems, and add calories to your diet.
If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
- Lifestyle Changes to Manage Arthritis Pain. http://www.everydayhealth.com/arthritis/taking-control-of-arthritis.aspx. Accessed 13 Feb 2017
- Septic Arthritis. http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/236299-overview. Accessed 13 Feb 2017
- Septic arthritis. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/bone-and-joint-infections/home/ovc-20166652. Accessed 13 Feb 2017
- Septic Arthritis. http://www.webmd.com/arthritis/septic-arthritis-symptoms-diagnosis-and-treatment#2-7. Accessed 13 Feb 2017
Review Date: September 5, 2017 | Last Modified: September 5, 2017