Septic arthritis or infectious arthritis is a painful condition of your joint (inflammation of your joint) that occurs due to bacterial or viral infections. You may get septic arthritis due to an animal bite or trauma when germs directly penetrate your joints. This type of infection is common in large joints like hips or knees. Septic arthritis diagnosis and quick treatments are required as infection may damage your cartilage and bones. Infants and older people are more prone to developing septic arthritis.
Septic Arthritis Symptoms
If you are having septic arthritis, you will experience severe pain, joint inflammation, and fever. Infectious arthritis symptoms could be:
- Extreme weakness and fatigue
- Difficulties in moving limbs that are related to infected joint
- Intense pain in the affected joint, especially during movement
- Inflamed joints (enhanced fluid within the joint)
- Warmth (while touching, the joints may feel warm and red due to increased blood flow)
These are some common septic arthritis signs and symptoms.
Causes of Septic Arthritis
Septic arthritis happens when infected bacteria enter various parts of your body through the bloodstream. This happens due to bacteria such as staphylococcus and streptococcus. Among young and sexually active adults, Neisseria gonorrhoeae is another common pathogen for this condition. These foreign intruders attack your joints causing intense pain and swelling.
Certain viruses are also responsible for this condition. These viruses are:
- Hepatitis A, B, and C
- Parvovirus B19
- HIV (AIDS virus)
How is Septic Arthritis Diagnosed?
Arthrocentesis is commonly performed to diagnose acute septic arthritis. This is a surgical procedure of the joint where an experienced surgeon punctures your joints to collect a sample of the joint fluid, called synovial fluid. This fluid is sterilized and acts as a lubricant.
During the procedure, the surgeon inserts the needle into an affected joint to draw fluid from it. For further analysis, the fluid sample is sent to a lab. The lab performs a white cell count on the fluid, which will be on the higher side. The lab will also culture bacteria or other organisms. This will help the doctor to diagnose whether an infection is present or not. And if there is an infection, then which organism is causing it.
X-rays are performed to diagnose joint damage. Sometimes, blood tests are recommended to monitor inflammation. MRI scanning is not effective in the early stages.
Septic Arthritis Treatment
Doctors may recommend joint drainage and antibiotic drugs to treat septic arthritis.
1. Joint Drainage
Doctors will remove the infected joint fluid to prevent further damage and reduce your pain. Drainage methods are:
- Needle: Sometimes, your doctor will extract the infected fluid by using a needle inserted into the joint space.
- Scope Procedure: An arthroscopy (ahr-THROS-Kuh-pee) is performed where a flexible tube with a video camera at its tip is inserted into your infected joint by a small incision. Suction and drainage tubes are then introduced through small incisions around your joint.
- Open Surgery: Certain joints like hips are more difficult to drain with a needle or arthroscopy. So, if required, your doctor may go for open surgery.
To find out the most useful medications, your doctor needs to identify the microbe causing your infection. Antibiotics are inserted into the vein in your arm at first. Later, your doctor will suggest oral antibiotics.
The duration of the treatment is between two to six weeks. Some side effects are there for antibiotics including nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Sometimes, you may experience allergic reactions. Your doctor will inform you of the side effects that you may experience from the antibiotics.
3. Removal of the Replacement Joint
If your artificial joint is infected, then your doctor removes the joint and temporarily replaces it with a joint spacer (a device made with antibiotic cement). After a few months, a new joint replacement is recommended.
If your artificial joint can’t be removed, then the doctor cleans the joint and after that, discards the damaged tissue without affecting the artificial joint. Intravenous antibiotics are prescribed initially after which oral antibiotics are recommended for several months to prevent the recurrence of the infection.
The Bottom Line
An early detection of septic arthritis symptoms is important to treat the condition on time. Although a rare condition, this form of arthritis can turn complicated if left untreated. Besides, try not to put extra weight on the joint infected with septic arthritis to experience some relief until you get the right treatment.
What are the prime complications of septic arthritis?
If you delay treatment, then septic arthritis may cause joint degeneration and permanent damage. If your artificial joint is affected by septic arthritis, you may experience complications like joint loosening or dislocation.
Can you lose your leg from septic arthritis?
If you don’t treat your septic arthritis, the bacteria will penetrate the deeper tissue of the joint. So, it would be an arduous job for your doctor to completely clear the joint and surrounding infected tissue. Under this scenario, your doctor may not save the joint, making an amputation if required.
Does infectious arthritis go away?
If you get septic arthritis due to a virus, then it may go away without any specific treatment. But fungal infections need to be treated with antifungal medications. Joint drainage is required to prevent further infections.
Can septic arthritis cause sepsis?
If you don’t treat your septic arthritis, the infection may spread to various parts of your body. This is called sepsis and it is dangerous for your life. Septic arthritis usually happens in one joint.
Why is septic arthritis considered a surgical emergency?
Septic arthritis is an emergency surgical condition where you need to drain your joint to avoid joint damage. Septic arthritis usually happens related to adjacent osteomyelitis (bone infection).