Septic Arthritis

Septic arthritis, or infectious arthritis, is similar to other arthritic disease processes in that there is destruction of the joint surface causing pain. The difference is what causes the destruction of the joint.

Symptoms of septic arthritis is pain at a single or more frequently multiple joints in the body. Any type of septic (travels throughout the entire body) infections can cause arthritic destruction. Gonorrhea is a common infecting organism that will cause a septic arthritis of the foot and ankle joints. Men may have a urethral (penis) discharge, painful or burning urination with a gonorrhea infection and should be seen by a physician. Females may have vaginal discharge, abnormal menstrual bleeding, frequent or painful urination with a gonorrhea infection and also should see your physician immediately. Gonorrhea may also be present without these symptoms and can first show up as an arthritis. A gonorrhea septic infection may also produce a fever, rash, or skin lesions.

Causes other than gonorrhea, can be from any other invading organism in the body. An infection will trigger events in the body with inflammation and a thickening of the synovial joint fluid. This abnormal fluid causes destruction of the cartilage and joint surface over time if left untreated with resultant pain.

Prevention is aimed at detecting joint damage early to prevent further destruction and treating the infectious organism.

Diagnosis is first by clinical suspicion of symptoms. A through examination of the joint is completed and usually your doctor will order x-rays to evaluate the joint structure. Cartilage is not seen on x-ray but bone changes can be detected. A joint aspiration may also be performed for laboratory analysis of the fluid. The aspiration requires a small needle be inserted into the joint and fluid is removed.

Podiatric Care may include using anti-inflammatory oral medications or an injection of medication and local anesthetic to reduce this swelling in the area of the affected joint. A joint aspiration can be used for treatment as well as diagnosis. Typically an antibiotic is utilized to help fight the organism causing the infection. For pain relief of the destructive joint, immobilization strapping or casting, or even keeping entirely off your foot may be suggested.