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Reiter’s Syndrome: One of Chlamydia’s Devastating Consequences

Chlamydia is the most common sexually transmitted disease (STD) in the United States, and the entire world.  It is spread through vaginal, anal, and oral sex, and its symptoms are subtle.  Only about half of those infected experience any symptoms at all.  Left untreated, chlamydia can cause permanent damage to a person’s reproductive organs. It can also lead to a dangerous disease known as Reiter’s syndrome, or reactive arthritis.

While half or more of those infected with chlamydia show no symptoms, women infected with chlamydia may experience pain the abdomen or during sex, painful urination, fever, or vaginal bleeding.  Men may experience pain during urination, tender testicles, fever, or a discharge from the penis.  Untreated chlamydia can infect the reproductive organs in both men and women, causing permanent damage in some cases.

Another complication of chlamydia is Reiter’s syndrome, also known as reactive arthritis.  Reiter’s syndrome is an autoimmune condition triggered by another infection, often chlamydia.  While not exactly arthritis, it’s symptoms do mimic those of arthritis, which is why it is sometimes referred to as “reactive arthritis.”  There are three main symptoms: inflammatory arthritis in large joints, such as the knee and the back, conjunctivitis (pink eye), and an Reiter's Syndrome: One of Chlamydia's Devastating Consequencesinfection of the urethra in men and cervix in women.  Those with Reiter’s syndrome may also develop lesions and heel pain.  In fact, a common mnemonic for Reiter’s is, “can’t see, can’t pee, can’t climb a tree.”

Reiter’s syndrome was first identified in 1776, although many scholars believe Christopher Columbus died of complications from the disease.  Other cases were reported over the years, including five in 1818 and two more during World War I.  One of these two World War I patients was treated by German Dr. Hans Reiter, who published his findings and after whom the condition was named,.  In 1977, a group of doctors began a movement to rename the condition “reactive arthritis” because of Dr. Reiter’s connections with the Nazi party of World War II Germany.  The movement was formally recognized in 2009 and since then the condition has increasing come to be known as reactive arthritis.

Reiter’s syndrome is treated by first treating or eliminating the infection that triggered the condition.  Otherwise, the various symptoms are treated independently.  In some cases, steroids and immunosuppressants are necessary, but only in the most severe cases.  The prognosis for those with Reiter’s syndrome is not good.  While most sufferers live a normal life span, repeated flair ups are common and those with Reiter’s syndrome can develop disabling arthritis and heart disease.  Its the latter that’s suspected to have killed Columbus.

It goes without saying that the best way to prevent Reiter’s syndrome is to detect and treat chlamydia early.  Sexually active individuals, or those with a new sex partner, should be tested regularly.  Chlamydia doesn’t always develop symptoms, so it is unwise to “wait until something is wrong.”  A test for STDs can be done through your regular doctor, a clinic, or a confidential testing facility.  Chlamydia can be treated, even cured, with simple antibiotics.  There really is no reason to wait, and Reiter’s syndrome is one reason to make an appointment to get tested today.

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