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Septic Arthritis – Causes, Symptoms an Treatment

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Septic arthritis is a painful infection that affects the joint fluid and tissues of a specific joint of your body. Germs, which travel from other parts of your body through your bloodstream, can cause this infection. 

Also known as infectious arthritis, it can also occur when germs enter a joint directly from an injury, like trauma or an animal bite.

What is Septic Arthritis?

Most commonly, the disease affects the knee, shoulder, hip, wrist, elbow, and finger joints. Older people, infants, and people with an artificial joint are most vulnerable to this infection. 

Prompt medical attention is crucial in septic arthritis because the infection can spread quickly and damage the bone and cartilage of the joint severely. 

The choice of treatment depends on the severity of your symptoms, age, and general health. 

What Causes Septic Arthritis?

Staphylococcus aureus is the most common kind of bacteria that causes septic arthritis. There are multiple ways through which this bacterium can affect a joint , such as an injury, an infected wound, or any foreign object.

Other viruses, bacteria, and fungi, which infect the joint include:

  • Streptococci
  • Haemophilus influenzae
  • Gram-negative bacilli such as E. coli.
  • Gonococci: This bacterium causes gonorrhea (a sexually transmitted infection).
  • Viruses: Viruses like HIV 

What are the Symptoms of Septic Arthritis?

The symptoms of septic arthritis differ from person to person. Signs and symptoms include:

  • Sudden joint pain
  • Redness and swelling in the knee and around the joint
  • Running a high fever
  • Due to stiffness, you find it difficult to move or put pressure on the joint
  • The skin over the particular joint feels hot
  • Low appetite and irritability

When Should You See a Doctor?

Since the symptoms of this disorder can be similar to other health conditions, you may overlook them. However, letting this infection linger for a long time can lead to severe complications. 

You must call your doctor if: 

  • You feel a noticeable increase in your joint pain.
  • The pain does not alleviate even after resting or taking painkillers. 
  • There is sudden and sharp pain around the joint. 

What are the Ways to Diagnose Septic Arthritis?

The doctors start the diagnosis with a physical examination and evaluating your medical history. After this, you may have to undergo some tests like:

  • Blood tests to find the presence of bacteria.
  • Taking out  the joint fluid to check for bacteria and increased white blood cells.
  • Spinal fluid, phlegm, and urine tests to detect infections . It also helps to recognize the source of infection.
  • Imaging tests like X-rays, CT scans, MRI scans.

What are risk factors?

The risk factors include:

  • Weak immunity
  • Fragile skin
  • An artificial joint
  • Existing joint conditions
  • Trauma to the joint
  • Taking immunosuppressants 

What are the Treatment Options for Septic Arthritis?

The following treatment options are possible:

  • Joint drainage: It involves draining fluid from the affected joint. Drainage methods are:
    • Needle: In a few cases, the doctor withdraws the infected fluid by inserting a needle into the joint.
    • Arthroscopy: In this, the doctor makes a tiny incision and passes a small flexible tube with a camera into your joint. Then, with the help of suction and drainage the fluids are drained out .
    • Open surgery: Draining fluid using the above methods can be tricky for some joints like the hip. In such cases, doctors suggest an open surgery, which gives them more access to the joint.
  • Antibiotics: Generally, doctors give antibiotics intravenously at first. Later, depending on your improvement, you may switch to oral antibiotics.
    • Typically, antibiotic treatment continues for two to six weeks. 
  • Removal of replacement joint: There are two situations when this scenario can happen .
    • If an artificial joint is affected with septic arthritis, your doctor removes the joint and temporarily replaces it with a device made of antibiotic cement. It is called a joint spacer. Several months later, you have to get a new replacement joint.
    • If it is risky to remove the replacement joint, the doctor may clean the joint, remove damaged tissue but leave the artificial joint. To prevent the recurrence of the infection, you may have to take intravenous antibiotics initially and oral antibiotics later, for several months.


Septic arthritis is a treatable disease. The prognosis depends on factors like the specific bacteria or virus causing the infection, the duration, and overall health condition. Additionally, some bacteria can be more aggressive in comparison to others. 

So, if you are suffering from a painful and inflamed joint, visit an orthopedic specialist at the earliest. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What more can I do to accelerate my recovery?

Following the below steps can improve your condition:

  • Follow the instructions of your doctor. 
  • Give the affected joint enough rest.
  • Seek medical attention at the earliest

What happens if septic arthritis is left untreated?

If left untreated, septic arthritis can:

  • Cause irreparable harm to the joint. 
  • Cause intolerable pain.
  • Damage parts of the joint.
  • Cause loss of mobility.
  • Lead to septicemia

Are there ways to prevent this condition?

Try the following to protect yourself from this joint disorder:

  • Strengthen your immune system.
  • Keep your blood sugar level under control.
  • Quit smoking.
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At Apollo, we believe that easily accessible, reliable health information can make managing health conditions an empowering experience. AskApollo Online Health Library team consists of medical experts who create curated peer-reviewed medical content that is regularly updated and is easy-to-understand.
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