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Arthritis from Food Poisoning or Unprotected Sex?

Of course, we’ve all heard the term ‘arthritis’ – the wear and tear that can come after injury or with older age…. But do you know about reactive arthritis and how it can affect the body? Did you know you can get arthritis from food poisoning or unprotected sex?

The term ‘reactive’ implies a response to something – in this case it is a response by  the immune system and how the body reacts to bacterial infections in the genital, gastrointestinal, and urinary systems. Although typically found in those in their 30s and 40s, it can actually affect people of all ages, primarily starting with a bowel or venereal (STI) infection. Ever wondered why your Osteopath chatted with you about travel? Or, perhaps less frequently, your intimate life?  If you show up in clinic with a peculiar or non-typical situation, there may be questions about your life that are not meant to be intrusive, but to help narrow down the possibilities of what is causing you pain.


After your infection sets in, and sometimes significantly later, inflammation can be experienced within the joints just like ordinary arthritis; this includes toes and fingers. You can also have a reaction in the soft tissues of your eyes, showing up as a ‘pinkeye’ or conjunctivitis.

Although less common, you might also experience scaly skin, ulcers in the mouth, and other symptoms linked to the common flu.

The Good News

Reactive Arthritis is usually a short term problem, provided that you get treatment. Most people recover within several months. Despite there being no specific ‘test’ your symptoms and history may lead to the typical treatments of antibiotics and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications. This will help reduce inflammation and pain as well as working on the infectious cause of your immune response.  Occasionally steroids may be suggested but this is often reserved for more severe or advanced symptoms.

In some cases, doctors might start to introduce other medication if the attack doesn’t show signs of stopping some months down the line. For example, a disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drug (DMARD) might be suggested but only as a last-chance effort to remove the issue. Since these will have an impact on your immune system, they won’t be advised in situations where regular treatment will do the job efficiently.

If I, as your osteopath, suspect that you have had an infection of some kind which has led to the development of a reactive arthritis, I will immediately refer you to your GP with a letter outlining your symptoms and relevant history in order to expedite your treatment.

After treatment, you can then think about prevention and precautions to prevent further gastrointestinal and genital infections.  There are a lot of resources out there to help you.   Check out The FPA, a leading UK sexual health charity.

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