Septic arthritis is an extremely painful condition due to the inflammation of a joint. It is sometimes called bacterial or infectious arthritis because the infection causes it. It most often affects one of the body’s large joints, such as a hip or knee, but it can affect several joints if the infection quickly spreads.
Any person of any age can develop septic or infectious arthritis, even children, but older adults and infants are most at risk. The large joints responsible for bearing weight are the joints most often affected by septic arthritis in adults: the hips and the knees.
Septic arthritis causes
An infection causes septic arthritis. This infection can be brought on by bacteria, which happens most often, is the most serious, and can result in bacterial arthritis. However, the infection can also be caused by a virus. When this happens, the condition usually resolves on its own. Very rarely, septic arthritis is caused by a fungus. The bacteria most commonly associated with septic joints is Staphylococcus aureus, or “Staph.” This bacteria lives on even normal, healthy skin.
Septic arthritis may occur when an infection in the body, such as a urinary tract infection or a respiratory infection, enters the bloodstream and travels through the blood to a joint. A joint affected with an infection is referred to as a septic joint. Another way the condition may occur is when germs enter the body through an opening in the skin located near or in a joint. An example can be a wound, an injection site, or a surgical incision.
Once the infection reaches the joint lining, the joint has little power to protect itself. The body’s response to the infection is inflammation that decreases blood flow and contributes to joint damage.
Infectious arthritis risk factors
Several factors place a person at risk for developing septic arthritis. If more than one or a combination of risk factors is present, the chance of developing septic joints is greater. The risk factors include:
- Current joint problems: Your risk of developing septic arthritis is increased if you have existing problems with your joints. For example, chronic conditions like gout, osteoarthritis, lupus, or rheumatoid arthritis. Previous injuries to a joint, joint replacement, or other previous surgical joint procedures may also increase your risk.
- Certain medications: If you take medications to treat rheumatoid arthritis, your risk of septic arthritis increases. It happens because these drugs decrease your body’s natural ability to fight off infection. It is also sometimes more difficult to diagnose septic arthritis in people who have rheumatoid arthritis because the symptoms of the two conditions are similar.
- Poor skin condition: Your skin is your body’s first defense against infection. If it breaks open easily and is slow to heal, bacteria can enter your body more easily. It, in turn, can be a potential cause of bacterial arthritis. Skin problems like eczema, psoriasis, and infected wounds put you at increased risk of septic arthritis. People who take injected drugs have an increased chance of developing an infection at an injection site.
- Weakened immunity: People with compromised immunity have an increased risk of septic arthritis because their bodies can’t effectively fight off infection. It includes people with diabetes, liver and kidney disorders, and people on medications that alter their immune response.
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