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Alternative NamesBacterial arthritis; Non-gonococcal bacterial arthritis
Definition Return to top
Septic arthritis is inflammation of a joint due to a bacterial infection other than gonorrhea (joint infection due to gonorrhea has different symptoms).
Causes Return to top
Septic arthritis develops when bacteria spread through the bloodstream to a joint. It may also occur when the joint is directly infected with bacteria by an injury or during surgery. The most common sites for this type of infection are the knee and hip.
Most cases of acute septic arthritis are caused by organisms such as staphylococcus or streptococcus.
Chronic septic arthritis (which is less common) is caused by organisms such as Mycobacterium tuberculosis and Candida albicans.
The following increase your risk for septic arthritis:
Septic arthritis may be seen at any age. In children, it occurs most often in those younger than 3 years. The hip is a frequent site of infection in infants.
Septic arthritis is uncommon from age 3 to adolescence. Children with septic arthritis are more likely than adults to be infected with group B streptococcus or Haemophilus influenza., if not immunized.
Symptoms Return to top
Symptoms usually come on quickly, with joint swelling, intense joint pain, and low-grade fever.
Symptoms in newborns or infants:
Symptoms in children and adults:
Chills may occur, but are uncommon.
Exams and Tests Return to top
Treatment Return to top
Antibiotics are used to treat the infection.
Rest, immobilization, elevation, and cool compresses may help relieve pain. Performing exercises for the affected joint helps the recovery process.
If joint (synovial) fluid builds up rapidly in the joint as a result of the infection, frequent aspiration of the fluid by inserting a needle into the joint may be needed. Severe cases may need surgery to drain the infected joint fluid.
Outlook (Prognosis) Return to top
Recovery is good with prompt antibiotic treatment. If treatment is delayed, permanent joint damage may result.
Possible Complications Return to top
When to Contact a Medical Professional Return to top
Call for an appointment with your health care provider if you develop symptoms of septic arthritis.
Prevention Return to top
Preventive (prophylactic) antibiotics may be helpful for people at high risk.
References Return to topEspinoza LR. Infections of bursae, joints, and bones. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 23rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier. 2007: chap 290. Update Date: 5/30/2009 Updated by: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine; Jatin M. Vyas, MD, PhD, Assistant Professor in Medicine, Harvard Medical School, Assistant in Medicine, Division of Infectious Disease, Department of Medicine, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.