What is Reiter’s Syndrome?

Do your joints hurt? You probably have arthritis. When did all the pain start to manifest? Did you have arthritis after having some form of disease? Then you are probably suffering from Reiter’s syndrome. But what is Reiter’s Syndrome?

What is Reiter’s Syndrome?

Reiter’s syndrome was named after Hans Reiter. Hans Reiter was the person who described the classic triad of arthritis, conjunctivitis, and nongonococcal urethritis, in 1916. But he mistakenly dubbed the disease as “spirochetosis arthritica”. This conditioned was used to be called as Reiter’s syndrome. But because of his affiliations and activities with the Nazis during World War II, this is now known as reactive arthritis (ReA).

Reiter’s syndrome, or reactive arthritis, is an inflammatory disease. It refers to acute nonpurulent arthritis complicating an infection somewhere else in the body. Reiter’s syndrome belongs to the rheumatic disease category of seronegative spondyloarthropathies. This includes psoriatic arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, arthropathy of associated inflammatory bowel disease, juvenile chronic arthritis, juvenile-onset anylosing spondylitis, and undifferentiated spondyloarthritis.

This inflammatory condition involves the joints, eyes, and urethra. Lesions or sores on the skin and mucus membranes may also be present.

Causes of Reiter’s Syndrome

The exact cause of Reiter’s syndrome is unknown. Reiter’s syndrome usually occurs after a sexually transmitted disease is incurred, such as chlamydia. An episode of gastroenteritis is also another illness that brings about Reiter’s syndrome. This is why it is called reactive arthritis. The body responds to the illness and so, brings about arthritis. Reiter’s syndrome can also be due to genetics.

Reiter’s syndrome usually affects men before the age of 40. Men are much more susceptible to the disease compared to women and young children. ReA may also occur in adolescents.

Symptoms of Reiter’s Syndrome

The symptoms of Reiter’s syndrome can be easily deduced from the definition. The main symptoms are the following:

  • Inflammation of the joints (arthritis)
  • Inflammation of the white of the eye (conjunctivitis)
  • Inflammation of the urethra (urethritis)
  • Psoriasis

The urinary symptoms usually appear within several days or weeks of an infection. Low-grade fever, conjunctivitis, and arthritis develop after several more weeks. The arthritis may either be mild or severe. It may affect only one part of the body or more than one joint.

Some of the muscle and joint symptoms include:

  • Achilles tendon pain
  • Joint pain in the large joints (ankles, knees, and hips are the common joints affected)
  • Heel pain
  • Low back pain

The eye and skin symptoms involved are:

  • Eye pain (burning)
  • Eye redness
  • Eye discharge
  • Skin lesions on the palms and soles (may resemble psoriasis)
  • Ulcers in the mouth, tongue, and glans penis (small and painless)

The urinary and genital symptoms include:

  • Genital lesions in males
  • Incontinence
  • Pain in penis
  • Redness or inflammation of the skin
  • Urethral discharge
  • Urinary urgency
  • Urinary hesitancy
  • Burning or stinging urination


The treatment for Reiter’s syndrome does not aim to get rid of the disease. Its goal is to relieve the symptoms and to treat any underlying infection.

Conjunctivitis and skin lesions do not necessarily require any form of treatment. These will go away on their own.

Antibiotics may be prescribed by the doctor if there is an infection. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), as well as pain relievers, may also be recommended for joint pains. A strong anti-inflammatory drug (corticosteroid) may be injected into a persistently inflamed joint.

Physical therapy can also be helpful in relieving the pain. It can also help develop better movement and maintain muscle strength.

Therapy to suppress the immune system can be considered for individuals with severe Reiter’s syndrome. However, this treatment may have toxic side effects.


Preventing STDs and gastrointestinal infections may help preventing Reiter’s syndrome. Wear condoms to prevent the spread of STDs. Wash hands and work area before and after preparing food to prevent any gastrointestinal infections.

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