Arthritis, Infectious

General Illness Information


Medical Term: Septic Arthritis


Painful swelling in an inflamed joint resulting from infection in the synovial fluid and the tissues of the joint. Any joint may be involved, but larger joints are more commonly affected.


Infection is mainly caused by bacteria which usually enter the joint through the blood stream. However, a joint can be infected directly if it is contaminated by injury, injection or surgery.

Also entry into a joint by germs, usually bacteria (streptococci, staphylococci, gonococci, hemophilus or tubercle bacillus) or fungi. Germs gain entry from:
Infection elsewhere in the body, as with gonorrhea or tuberculosis; Infection next to the joint, as with skin boils, cellulitis or bone infection; Injury to the joint, including puncture wounds and skin abrasions.


Protect exposed joints, such as the knee during activities involving injury risks. Obtain prompt medical treatment for infections elsewhere in the body.

Signs & Symptoms

  • Redness, swelling, tenderness and pain ( often throbbing) in the affected joint. Pain sometimes spreads to other joints. It worsens with movement.
  • Chills and fever (sometimes high).

Risk Factors

  • Adults over 60.
  • Lowering illness.
  • Sexually transmitted infections.
  • Diabetes mellitus.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis.
  • Use of immuno-suppressive drugs.
  • Joint surgery.
  • Injections into joints.
  • Excess alcohol consumption.
  • Use of mind-altering drugs, especially those that are injected.
  • Poor hygiene.
  • Prosthetic artificial joint.
  • The use of aspirin and other non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for other disorders may suppress signs of joint inflammation, delaying diagnosis.

Diagnosis & Treatment

General Measures:

  • Diagnostic tests may include laboratory studies, such as blood counts, blood culture and culture of fluid from the infected joint and X-rays of the affected joint
  • Treatment involves antibiotic therapy with close medical monitoring of your progress through frequent cultures of joint fluid.
  • Hospitalization or complete bed rest for complete rest and intravenous antibiotics.
  • Surgery to drain fluid or remove foreign material introduced by injury.
  • Physical therapy after recovery to regain full use of the joint.


  • Antibiotics (often intravenous). Don’t discontinue antibiotics until told to do so. Infection may return after symptoms disappear.
  • Painkillers for a short time to relieve pain.


Splints or casts may be necessary to rest the affected joint completely. Movement delays healing. Range of motion exercises may be started following treatment. After cure, physical therapy is often necessary to restore joint function. Resume normal activities gradually as symptoms improve.


No special diet.

Possible Complications:

  • Misdiagnosis as gout or another non-infectious condition, delaying antibiotic treatment.
  • Blood poisoning.
  • Permanent joint damage and or disability.


Usually curable with early diagnosis and treatment. Recovery takes weeks or months. Treatment delay may result in a badly damaged joint and loss of movement, requiring eventual joint replacement.

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