Last updated:05-18-2010
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Definition and causes

Septic arthritis is an infection of the joint synovialmembrane, most frequently seen in the hip, shoulder or knee. The infection is usually caused by bacteria, which have penetrated the joint from an open wound in the vicinity, or via blood stream from a second infection in the body. As an example the bacteria that causes gonorrhea, may be transported from the urethra via the blood stream and to infect a joint.
Staphylococci is a frequent cause of septic arthritis in adults.
The risk of septic arthritis is elevated in patients with an artificial hip or who are suffering from rheumatoid arthritis or diabetes. Injecting drug users are also at increased risk of septic arthritis.
Septic arthritis is most frequently seen in children and the elderly.

Symptoms of septic arthritis

There is usually a sudden onset of symptoms from a single joint, especially the hip, shoulder or knee. Typically symptoms are:
  • General feeling of sickness including fever.
  • The affected joint is tense, sore, and swelling and redness is frequently seen.
  • Intense pain and restricted movement of the affected joint.

Precautions and diagnosis

If you experience the above symptoms, it is important to contact your doctor as soon as possible in order to prevent permanently damaging the joint.
A joint puncture, where a sample of the joint fluid is removed in local anesthesia with a needle can be used to determine whether the joint is infected.  Microscopy and cultivation of the joint fluid can determine the type of bacteria in question as well as which antibiotic the bacteria may respond to.

Treatment of septic arthritis

Treatment consists primarily of large quantities of the relevant antibiotic, administered intravenously. This may be supplemented by removal of the joint fluid and pus from the tense and swollen joint, which in turn relieves the pain. After a few days the patient will be changed to per oral medication.

Prognosis and complications

Septic arthritis is a very serious condition, which if not treated in time, can cause extensive damage to the infected joint and later lead to osteoarthrosis. In older people, there is a significant mortality associated with the disease.


Related articles:

Living with Arthritis - tips
Arthritis in children
Bechterews disease (Spondylitis Anchylopoietica, Morbus Bechterew)
Diocese Shoulder joint (Frozen shoulder, Periartrosis humeroscapularis)
Osteoarthritis (osteoarthritis, Artrose)
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA Rheumatoid Arthritis)
Septic arthritis
Skewed big toe (Hallux valgus)



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