Septic arthritis is joint inflammation that is caused by an infection of the joint by a bacteria or virus. It can also cause stiffness or inability to move the joint, and also known as infectious arthritis. It has many of the same symptoms as wear and tear arthritis including redness, pain, and heat in the joint. Other symptoms accompanying it including those of a generalized infection such as fever, weakness, or a headache. The infection may involve one or several joints.

Causes of Septic Arthritis

An infection that enters the joint causes septic arthritis. Other causes include bacteria, virus, fungus, or even a parasite, and can be associated with trauma to the area or blood-borne infection. It usually comes on rapidly and may include flu-like symptoms.

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Diagnosis of septic arthritis includes taking a sample of the joint fluid and culturing it to see if anything grows. If the culture is found to contain a high number of white blood cells or lactate, it makes the likelihood of septic arthritis the causal factor. It differs symptomatically from osteoarthritis in the speed of its onset.

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Treatment usually includes antibiotics to treat the infection. In some cases, surgery may be required to clean out the joint and reduce the infectious agents or. With early treatment, most people will avoid long-term joint problems. If treatment is prolonged, or the infection is serious, it can cause permanent joint damage.

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How Serious Is It?

It is not like osteoarthritis in its severity or seriousness. It is a sign of a systemic infection that may be more widespread than the joint. Even with treatment, 5 percent of all people with septic arthritis die. Without treatment, nearly 66 percent of all people with septic arthritis die. Early treatment is the best protection against it becoming serious and potentially fatal.

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Risk Factors

Underlying joint characteristics and certain medical conditions placed certain people at greater risk for developing septic arthritis. A majority of the cases have a condition that predisposes them to the ailment. Factors that greatly increase the potential for developing septic arthritis include advanced age, diabetes mellitus, persons taking immunosuppressive medication, IV drug users, and those that have an active HIV infection.

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Is Septic Arthritis the Same As Other Types of Arthritis?

The symptoms of septic arthritis may appear to be similar to other forms of arthritis because they cause pain, swelling, and stiffness in the joints. However, they are quite different and represent a serious medical condition. The main difference is that septic arthritis can develop quite quickly and other forms of arthritis usually develop more slowly unless they are a result of the injury. It is always advised to seek medical attention at any time joint swells and becomes painful quickly to determine the cause.

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Is Septic Arthritis the Same As Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease where the body attacks the joints. With rheumatoid arthritis no other pathogen is present. With septic arthritis, the inflammatory response is a result of the presence of another pathogen such as a bacteria. The symptoms can seem similar, but the cause is quite different. Those that have rheumatoid arthritis and are undergoing treatment for anti-tumor necrosis factor are at a higher risk for developing septic arthritis in addition to the underlying rheumatoid arthritis.

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Joint Related Risk Factors

Surgery or another injury to the joint can place it in greater danger of developing septic arthritis. For instance, those who have had joint surgery, or who have a hip or knee prosthesis are at higher risk for contracting this type of arthritis. Any trauma to the knee can make it susceptible to septic arthritis, particularly if another infection is already present in the body.

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Where Does Septic Arthritis Occur?

The most common places for septic arthritis to occur are in the knee and hip joints. However, it can occur in any joint of the body. Joints that are weakened by other conditions, or that have been injured are most susceptible. Sometimes the inflection will attack a joint for no known reason when a general infection is present.



When To See A Doctor

You should seek medical attention immediately any time a joint becomes red, swollen, and painful suddenly. This is especially true if no known injury has occurred. If symptoms that include fever, weakness, or general flulike symptoms are present, septic arthritis may be the culprit. It can develop and progress rapidly so it is important to find out if this is the cause as quickly as possible so that treatment can begin immediately.


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