Septic arthritis

Septic arthritis
Septic arthritis
Classification and external resources
ICD-10 M00-M03
ICD-9 711.0
DiseasesDB 29523
eMedicine med/3394 [1]
MeSH D001170

Septic arthritis is the purulent invasion of a joint by an infectious agent which produces arthritis.[1] People with artificial joints are more at risk than the general population but have slightly different symptoms, are infected with different organisms and require different treatment.[2] Septic arthritis is considered a medical emergency. If untreated, it may destroy the joint in a period of days. The infection may also spread to other parts of the body.



The term "suppurative arthritis" is a near synonym for septic arthritis. ("Suppurative" refers to the production of pus, without necessarily implying sepsis.)

ICD-10 uses the term "pyogenic arthritis". Pyogenic also refers to the production of pus.

Reactive arthritis refers to arthritis caused by an immune consequence of an infection, but not directly attributable to the infection itself.

The usual etiology of septic arthritis is bacterial, but viral, mycobacterial, and fungal[3] arthritis occur occasionally. A broader term is "infectious arthritis", which describes arthritis caused by any infectious organism.[4] Viruses can cause arthritis,[5] but it can be hard to determine if the arthritis is directly due to the virus or if the arthritis is reactive.[6]

Septic/suppurative arthritis and "bacterial arthritis" are sometimes considered equivalent, but there are exceptions. For example, Borrelia burgdorferi can cause infectious arthritis, but is not associated with suppurative arthritis.[6]


Bacteria are carried by the bloodstream from an infectious focus elsewhere, introduced by a skin lesion that penetrates the joint, or by extension from adjacent tissue (e.g. bone or bursae bovine tb).

Micro-organisms must reach the synovial membrane of a joint. This can happen in any of the following ways:

Bacteria that are commonly found to cause septic arthritis are:

In bacterial infection, Pseudomonas aeruginosa has been found to infect joints, especially in children who have sustained a puncture wound. This bacteria also causes endocarditis.[10]


Septic arthritis should be considered whenever one is assessing a patient with rapid onset of joint pain. Usually only one joint is affected (monoarthritis) however in seeding arthritis, several joints can be affected simultaneously; this is especially the case when the infection is caused by staphylococcus or gonococcus bacteria. Pain can be significant with any movement, therefore, patient will refuse to use extremity and prefers to hold joint rigidly. May have associated swelling, redness & warmth, often absent for deep joints such as hips & shoulders.

The diagnosis of septic arthritic can be difficult as no test is able to completely rule out the possibility.

A number of factors should increase one's suspicion of the presence of an infection. In children these are: fever > 38.5 C, non-weight-bearing, serum WBCs > 12 x 10^9, ESR > 40 mm/hr, CRP > 20 mg/dL, a previous visit for the same.[11]

Diagnosis is by aspiration (giving a turbid, non-viscous fluid), Gram stain and culture of fluid from the joint, as well as tell-tale signs in laboratory testing (such as a highly elevated neutrophils (approx. 90%), ESR or CRP). The ESR and CRP are almost always raised on admission, CRP being faster in diagnostics.[12]

The Gram stain can rule in the diagnosis of septic arthritis however cannot exclude it.[13]

X-rays - may not be helpful early, but may show subtle increase in joint space tissue swelling.

Ultrasound - may reveals joint effusion.


Therapy is usually with intravenous antibiotics, analgesia and washout/aspiration of the joint to dryness. Among pediatric patients with an acute hematogenous septic arthritis a short total course of 10 days of antimicrobials is sufficient in uncomplicated cases.[14]

In infection of a prosthetic joint, a biofilm is often created on the surface of the prosthesis which is resistant to antibiotics. Surgical debridement or arthrotomy is usually indicated in these cases. A replacement prosthesis is usually not inserted at the time of removal to allow antibiotics to clear infection of the region.

Patients in whom surgery is contraindicated may trial long-term antibiotic therapy.[15]

Close follow up with physical exam & labs must be done to make sure patient remain afebrile, pain resolved, improved range of motion and normalized lab values.

Radiologic findings

The diagnosis of septic arthritis is based on clinical assessment and prompt arthrocentesis. Imaging can sometimes be used to aid in the diagnosis of septic arthritis.

Native X-ray of the joint is neither sensitive nor specific. Ultrasound can detect joint-swelling. MRI findings include: synovial enhancement, perisynovial edema and joint effusion. Signal abnormalities in the bone marrow can indicate a concomitant osteomyelitis. The sensitivity and specificity of MRI for the detection of septic arthritis has been reported to be 67% and 98% respectively.

See also


  1. ^ "septic arthritis" at Dorland's Medical Dictionary
  2. ^ Don L, Goldenberg; Daniel J Sexton (ed) (2009-06-30). "Patient information: Joint infection". UpToDate for Patients (UpToDate, Inc). Wolters Kluwer Health. Archived from the original on 2008-06-11. Retrieved 2010-06-07. 
  3. ^ Cuéllar ML, Silveira LH, Espinoza LR (May 1992). "Fungal arthritis". Ann. Rheum. Dis. 51 (5): 690–7. doi:10.1136/ard.51.5.690. PMC 1005712. PMID 1616344. 
  4. ^ "infectious arthritis" at Dorland's Medical Dictionary
  5. ^ Ytterberg SR (July 1999). "Viral arthritis". Curr. Opin. Rheumatol. 11 (4): 275–80. doi:10.1097/00002281-199907000-00009. PMID 10411381. 
  6. ^ a b Cotran, Ramzi S.; Kumar, Vinay; Fausto, Nelson; Nelso Fausto; Robbins, Stanley L.; Abbas, Abul K. (2005). Robbins and Cotran pathologic basis of disease. St. Louis, Mo: Elsevier Saunders. pp. 1310. ISBN 0-7216-0187-1. 
  7. ^ a b O'Callaghan C, Axford JS (2004). Medicine (2nd ed.). Oxford: Blackwell Science. ISBN 0-632-05162-0. 
  8. ^ a b Kaandorp CJ, Dinant HJ, van de Laar MA, Moens HJ, Prins AP, Dijkmans BA (August 1997). "Incidence and sources of native and prosthetic joint infection: a community based prospective survey". Ann. Rheum. Dis. 56 (8): 470–5. doi:10.1136/ard.56.8.470. PMC 1752430. PMID 9306869. 
    Weston VC, Jones AC, Bradbury N, Fawthrop F, Doherty M (April 1999). "Clinical features and outcome of septic arthritis in a single UK Health District 1982-1991". Ann. Rheum. Dis. 58 (4): 214–9. doi:10.1136/ard.58.4.214. PMC 1752863. PMID 10364899. 
  9. ^ Bowerman SG, Green NE, Mencio GA (August 1997). "Decline of bone and joint infections attributable to haemophilus influenzae type b". Clin. Orthop. Relat. Res. (341): 128–33. PMID 9269165. 
    Peltola H, Kallio MJ, Unkila-Kallio L (May 1998). "Reduced incidence of septic arthritis in children by Haemophilus influenzae type-b vaccination. Implications for treatment". J. Bone Joint Surg. Br. 80 (3): 471–3. doi:10.1302/0301-620X.80B3.8296. PMID 9619939. 
  10. ^ Topics in Infectious Diseases Newsletter, August 2001, Pseudomonas aeruginosa.
  11. ^ "BestBets: Distinguishing between septic arthritis of the hip and transient synovitis in children". 
  12. ^ Pääkkönen M, Kallio MJ, Kallio PE, Peltola H. (May 2010). "Sensitivity of erythrocyte sedimentation rate and C-reactive protein in childhood bone and joint infections.". Clin. Orthop. Relat. Res. 468 (3): 861–6.. doi:10.1007/s11999-009-0936-1. PMC 2816763. PMID 19533263. 
  13. ^ "BestBets: Is a negative gram stain in suspected septic arthritis sufficient to rule out septic arthritis". 
  14. ^ Peltola H, Pääkkönen M, Kallio MJ, Kallio PE. (May 2009). "Prospective, randomized trial of 10 days versus 30 days of antimicrobial treatment, including a short-term course of parenteral therapy, for childhood septic arthritis.". Clin. Infect. Dis. 48 (9): 1201–10.. doi:10.1086/597582. PMID 19323633. 
  15. ^ Prosthetic Joint Infectious Arthritis: Infections of Joints and Bones: Merck Manual Professional [Internet]. [cited 2010 Feb 16];Available from:

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