Septic arthritis is a serious infection of the joints caused by bacteria. This infection causes the joint to be filled with pus cells. These pus cells release substances directed against the bacteria. However, this action can damage the joint structures, bone, and surrounding cartilage.
Septic arthritis develops when bacteria spreads from the source of infection through the bloodstream to a joint. It can result from: Infection due to an injectionSurgeryOther infections
Septic arthritis can also be caused from injury or trauma. It can result from: A penetration woundAn injury that affects the jointJoint surgery/replacement
Septic arthritis can strike at any age. However, it occurs most often in children aged three and younger. In infants, the hip is a frequent site of infection. In toddlers, it is the shoulders, knees, and hips. In children, the most common bacterial causes are: Staphylococcus aureus—staph infectionStreptococcus
species, such as group B strep infection
Streptococcus pneumoniae—a common bacterial cause of
Septic arthritis rarely occurs from early childhood through adolescence. After that, it occurs more often. In adults, it most commonly affects weight-bearing joints, such as the knees. In adults, the most common causes are: S. aureusNeisseria gonorrhoeae—the bacteria that causes
Joint Damage in Knee
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Factors that may increase your chance of developing septic arthritis include:
Diseases that weaken the immune system, such as
HIV, or taking drugs that suppress immunity
A history of joint problems or having other types of
lupusA history of IV drug use
Chronic illnesses, such as
kidney failureJoint replacement or organ transplant surgeryRecent
injections, such as cortisone or hyaluronic acidAlcoholism
Skin conditions, such as
Symptoms may include:
Newborn or infants
Crying when a joint is moved, such as during a diaper changeInability to move the limb of a jointSwelling and rednessIrritabilityFeverPersistent crying for any reason
Children and adults
Intense joint painJoint swelling and rednessFeverChillsInability to move a joint or its limbLimping
Your doctor will ask about you or your child’s symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Your doctor may refer you to a specialist.
Your doctor may need to test your bodily fluids. This can be done with: Testing joint fluidsBlood tests
Images may be taken of your bodily structures. This can be done with: X-raysMRI scan
Antibiotic therapy is started as soon as a diagnosis is made. In the beginning, antibiotics are given by IV. This is to ensure that the infected joint receives medicine to kill the bacteria. The specific medicines used depend on the type of bacteria that is causing the infection. The remaining course of antibiotics may be given by mouth.
Fluid may be removed from the joint to reduce the likelihood of joint damage. This may be done either by placing a needle in the joint or through surgery.
Rest, preventing the joint from moving, and warm compresses may be used to manage pain. Physical therapy or exercises may also speed recovery.
If you are diagnosed with septic arthritis, follow your doctor's
To help reduce your chance of getting septic arthritis, get prompt treatment of infections that could lead to septic arthritis.
Ernst AA, Weiss SJ, et al. Usefulness of CRP and ESR in
predicting septic joints.
South Med J.
Howard A, Wilson M. Septic arthritis in children.
Ma L, Cranney A, et al. Acute monoarthritis: what is the cause of
my patient's painful swollen joint?
Last reviewed August 2013 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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