Reactive arthritis, formerly known as Reiter's syndrome, is a form of inflammatory arthritis that develops in response to an infection in another part of the body (cross-reactivity). Coming into contact with bacteria and developing an infection can trigger the disease. By the time the patient presents with symptoms, often the "trigger" infection has been cured or is in remission in chronic cases, thus making determination of the initial cause difficult.
The arthritis often is coupled with other characteristic symptoms; this was previously referred to as Reiter's syndrome, Reiter's disease or Reiter's arthritis. The term "reactive arthritis" is preferred and increasingly used as a substitute for this designation because Hans Conrad Julius Reiter was not the first to describe the syndrome, his conclusions regarding its pathogenesis were incorrect, and because he committed war crimes as a Nazi at Buchenwald concentration camp during World War II.
The manifestations of reactive arthritis include the following triad of symptoms: an inflammatory arthritis of large joints, inflammation of the eyes in the form of conjunctivitis or uveitis, and urethritis in men or cervicitis in women. Arthritis occurring alone following sexual exposure or enteric infection is also known as reactive arthritis. Patients can also present with mucocutaneous lesions, as well as psoriasis-like skin lesions such as circinate balanitis, and keratoderma blennorrhagicum. Enthesitis can involve the Achilles tendon resulting in heel pain. Not all affected persons have all the manifestations.
The clinical pattern of reactive arthritis commonly consists of an inflammation of fewer than five joints which often includes the knee or sacroiliac joint. The arthritis may be "additive" (more joints become inflamed in addition to the primarily affected one) or "migratory" (new joints become inflamed after the initially inflamed site has already improved).
Reactive arthritis is an RF-seronegative, HLA-B27-linked arthritis often precipitated by genitourinary or gastrointestinal infections. The most common triggers are intestinal infections (with Salmonella, Shigella or Campylobacter) and sexually transmitted infections (with Chlamydia trachomatis), however, it also can happen after group A streptococcal infections.
It most commonly strikes individuals aged 20–40 years of age, is more common in men than in women, and more common in white than in black people. This is owing to the high frequency of the HLA-B27 gene in the white population. It can occur in epidemic form. Patients with HIV have an increased risk of developing reactive arthritis as well.
Numerous cases during World Wars I and II focused attention on the triad of arthritis, urethritis, and conjunctivitis (often with additional mucocutaneous lesions), which at that time was also referred to as Fiessenger-Leroy-Reiter syndrome.