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Septic arthritis

Dr Roger Henderson
Reviewed by Dr Roger HendersonReviewed on 13.10.2023 | 2 minutes read
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Septic arthritis is an infection in a joint that always needs to be identified and treated as soon as possible to avoid irreversible joint damage and further risk to your health from sepsis.

If you are concerned you have septic arthritis you should seek urgent medical attention.

Septic arthritis is a significant problem, but if treated early and the infection is cleared, you should be able to avoid any long-term problems to the joint or to your general health.

Many different infections can cause septic arthritis, but the most common is Staphylococcus aureus. Although anyone can develop septic arthritis at any age, it is most common in very young children.

What are the symptoms?

Septic arthritis causes you to have a sudden onset of significant pain in a joint that is very difficult and painful to move. You will also often feel generally unwell, the skin over the joint is often red and the joint may feel warm or hot, and swollen. The knee joint is most commonly affected by septic arthritis (in around half of cases) with the hip joint being the next most common, and certain people are more at risk of septic arthritis including people with a weakened immune system, people with rheumatoid arthritis, and people with an artificial joint.

Is it contagious?

Septic arthritis is not contagious to others – you cannot catch it from someone else -but it needs to be identified and treated as soon as possible to avoid irreversible joint damage and further risk to your health from sepsis. If you are concerned you have septic arthritis you should seek urgent medical attention.

When should I see my doctor?

If you are concerned that you have septic arthritis you should seek urgent medical attention. Your doctor will examine you and may arrange additional investigations and may refer you to hospital, where specialists will do blood tests and scanning, and they may take a sample of fluid taken from your joint to test for bacteria.

Septic arthritis is treated with antibiotics – usually intravenous via a line at first, and later changed to antibiotic tablets. The joint may need to be put in a splint because it is so painful to move, and in some cases an operation may need to be considered to help clear the infection and clean the joint.

Infection of an artificial joint, such as a total hip or knee replacement, is treated differently and in some cases may require an operation to remove or exchange the artificial joint. Again, this requires urgent medical attention if suspected.

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Dr Roger Henderson
Reviewed by Dr Roger Henderson
Reviewed on 13.10.2023
EmailFacebookPinterestTwitter