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General Information

DEFINITION--Inflammation in a joint resulting from infection. This is one of the few forms of arthritis that is curable.

BODY PARTS INVOLVED--Any joint, but most common in larger ones, such as the hip, or those subject to trauma, such as the knee or joints in the hands.

SEX OR AGE MOST AFFECTED--Both sexes; all ages.


  • Chills and fever (sometimes high).
  • Redness, swelling, tenderness and pain (often throbbing) in the affected joint. Pain sometimes spreads to other joints. It worsens with movement.
  • Pain in the buttocks, thighs or groin (sometimes).


    Entry into a joint by bacteria (streptococci, staphylococci, gonococci, hemophilus or tubercle bacillus) or fungi. Organisms gain entry from:

  • Infection elsewhere in the body, as with gonorrhea or tuberculosis.
  • Infection next to the joint, as with skin boils, cellulitis or bone infection.
  • Injury to the joint, including puncture wounds and skin abrasions.


  • Adults over 60.
  • Illness that has lowered resistance.
  • Sexually transmitted infections.
  • Diabetes mellitus, rheumatoid arthritis or liver disease.
  • Use of immunosuppressive drugs.
  • Joint surgery or injections into joints.
  • Excess alcohol consumption.
  • Many sexual partners.
  • Use of alcohol or mind-altering drugs, especially those that are injected.
  • Poor hygiene.
  • Prosthetic joint.
  • The use of aspirin and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs for other disorders may suppress signs of joint inflammation, delaying diagnosis.


  • Protect exposed joints, such as the knee, during activities involving injury risks.
  • Obtain prompt medical treatment for infections elsewhere in the body.
  • Protect yourself from sexually transmitted diseases.

What To Expect


  • Your own observation of symptoms.
  • Medical history and exam by a doctor.
  • Laboratory studies, such as blood counts, blood culture and culture of fluid from the infected joint.
  • X-rays of affected joints.


  • Doctor's treatment.
  • Hospitalization (frequently) for complete rest and intravenous antibiotics.
  • Surgery to drain fluid or remove foreign material introduced by an injury.
  • Physical therapy after recovery.


  • Misdiagnosis as gout or another non-infectious condition, delaying antibiotic treatment.
  • Blood poisoning.
  • Permanent joint damage.

PROBABLE OUTCOME--Usually curable with early diagnosis and treatment. Recovery takes weeks or months. Treatment delay may result in a badly damaged joint and loss of movement, requiring joint replacement.

How To Treat


  • No specific instructions.
  • See Resources for Additional Information.

MEDICATION--Your doctor may prescribe:

  • Antibiotics (often intravenous). Don't discontinue antibiotics until your doctor recommends it. Infection may return after symptoms disappear.
  • Narcotic pain medicine for a short time to relieve pain.

ACTIVITY--Splints or casts may be necessary to rest the affected joint. Movement delays healing. After cure, physical therapy is often necessary to restore joint function. Resume activities gradually as symptoms improve.

DIET--No special diet.

Call Your Doctor If

  • You have symptoms of joint infection. Call immediately.
  • The following occurs during the illness: Temperature spikes to 103F (39.4C). Fatigue, headache, muscle aches and sweating.
  • New, unexplained symptoms develop.
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