Diagnosis and Treatments for Infectious Arthritis (Septic Arthritis)

Infectious arthritis (or septic arthritis) is a curable form of arthritis and usually not a long-term illness. If the infection is diagnosed and treated promptly, people with infectious arthritis still have a chance to resume their normal activities once the infection is gone. However, without prompt treatment infectious arthritis can result in further joint damage since an infected joint can be destroyed within days or even within hours. The disease may also spread to other parts of the body.Septic_ArthritisDiagnosis

To diagnose infectious arthritis, the doctor will first inquire the patient’s medical history and then conduct various laboratory tests. X-rays may be taken to see if there is joint damage. Usually, the doctor needs to take a sample of fluid or tissue from the infected joint. Bacteria and fungi are two infecting organisms that can be identified from joint fluid, blood, urine or the infected area. The joint fluid is examined to identify what kind of bacteria that causes the infection. Blood tests can be done since the bacteria often appear in the bloodstream. The urine may also be tested for bacteria to help determine the source of infection. If fungi are suspected, the doctor may remove a tiny piece of tissue from the joint. A viral infection is usually diagnosed by a person’s symptoms and medical history.


Treatments for infectious arthritis may vary depend on its cause. Bacterial and fungal infections are usually treated with medication. Infections caused by bacteria are treated with a combination of antibiotics. Infections caused by fungi are treated with antifungal drugs. A viral infection will generally go away on its own. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) will be necessary to relieve pain and fever.

  • Treatments for bacterial infections usually involve a combination of antibiotics. Different antibiotics destroy different bacteria. So the use of antibiotic depends on the type of bacteria present. For the best result, the antibiotics should be taken for the number of days prescribed even if symptoms disappear. When the symptoms are gone, people might think they can stop the medication. But at that time, the bacteria may still be present and can re-infect the area.
  • Treatments for fungal infections could be more complicated. It is difficult to eliminate fungal infections entirely. Doctors can prescribe antifungal drugs but it may need to be used for months. Surgery can be performed to clean out the infected joint. Nevertheless, the infection may still recur after a successful treatment.
  • Treatments for viral infections may not involve any medications because this type of infectious arthritis can go away by itself. Drinking plenty of liquids and resting in bed are usually recommended.
  • To relieve pain and inflammation in all types of infectious arthritis the doctor may prescribe Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
  • The doctor may need to drain one or more joints for rapid clearing of the infection. Drainage can be done by regular aspirations with a needle and syringe, or via surgical procedures. Arthroscopy (a procedure using a small scope to view the interior of the joint directly) can be used to irrigate the joint and remove infected joint lining tissue. Sometimes drains are left in place to drain excess fluid that can accumulate after the arthroscopy or open joint surgery.
  • There are other treatments that can be done after the infection is gone. The doctor may recommend exercises to build up muscle strength and increase the joint’s range of motion. To do the exercises correctly, a patient can be assisted by a physical therapist.


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