What is Septic Arthritis?

Did you know that there are over 100 different types of arthritis? It’s true. While osteoporosis and rheumatoid arthritis get most of the attention, there are other forms of the disease that can be just as debilitation. Case in point: septic arthritis. It is an often-debilitating disease that can cause serious damage to the joints. Septic arthritis is sometimes referred to as infectious or bacterial arthritis. It is one of the least common forms of arthritis. Septic arthritis is best treated with early aggressive treatment as it can quickly be debilitating. Most health professionals agree that septic arthritis should be treated as early as possible because the disease progresses quickly and can destroy the patient’s joints in a relatively short period of time.

Who is most likely to develop septic arthritis? It appears that those who have experienced some kind of traumatic injury are much more likely to develop septic arthritis. People with artificial joints are also more prone to developing the disease. Another group that appears more susceptible to this disease are individuals with bacteremia, whose organisms may move from the bloodstream into the joint space. There are other general risk factors for septic arthritis that have been identified by health professionals and researchers. Some of these risk factors include age (people who are 80 years and older appear more susceptible to the disease), those who have had recent joint surgery, and those who suffer from rheumatoid arthritis or diabetes. Immunosuppressive conditions and intravenous drug use have also been identified as possible risk factors for septic arthritis.

Septic arthritis most often afflicts the hip and knee joints, although it can affect any joint in the body. Some statistics estimate that approximately 50% of septic arthritis cases involve the knee. Other commonly afflicted areas include the wrists and ankles. Organisms that move from the bloodstream into the joint space usually cause acute septic arthritis. The most common organisms include Staphylococcus aureus, Streptococcus pneumoniae, and Mycobacterium tuberculosis, although this form is much more rare and indicates the chronic form of the disease. In order to diagnose septic arthritis, doctors may use several tests to reach a conclusive diagnosis. A visual examination is often used to note any areas of swelling and inflammation. Tests that are commonly used to diagnose septic arthritis include blood culture tests, synovial fluid analyses, and X-rays of the joints.

Treatment of septic arthritis usually requires aspiration of the joints. This means that a needle must be used to suction and remove excessive synovial fluid from the joint. The infection that causes septic arthritis fills the joint with synovial fluid, making aspiration a common therapy approach to relieving the effects of the infection. In more advanced cases, surgery may be used in order to drain the joints of the fluid. Drug therapy is often used in conjunction with aspiration. Antibiotics are used to control the spread of the organisms that invade the joint space. The type of antibiotic prescribed depends on what type of bacteria is present, and where the joint space infection is located.