What is it?
Septic arthritis is an infection of a joint. The joint often becomes hot, red and swollen and it is uncomfortable to move it. It can be confused by other conditions such as acute gout which may present in a similar manner. It can be as a result of penetrating trauma to the joint. Rarely, does it occur due to spread from an infection elsewhere in the body.
What is the natural history?
Septic joints do not tend to settle on their own and often require intervention. If left untreated, infection can damage the cartilage that lines the joint surfaces. If there is no cartilage the two raw bone ends of the joint can rub together creating pain on movement. Once the cartilage has been destroyed the infection can penetrate into the bones that make up the joint resulting in a bone infection (osteomyelitis) but this is less common.
What is the treatment?
Treatment aims to preserve the joint surfaces. A combination of antibiotics and surgery to “clean out” the joint may be required.
What is the prognosis?
After successful treatment of an infected joint, often the joint becomes stiff and there is reduced movement. If significant damage to the cartilage has developed, then arthritis may develop.
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