Can infections cause osteoarthritis?

Donna Hill Howes, RN
Family Practitioner

Joint infections may increase the risk for osteoarthritis, along with other factors such as repeated injuries, abnormal motions, trauma or other joint disorders. Infections can cause swelling and inflammation, further damaging a joint. Osteoarthritis caused from infections or these other causes is said to be "secondary osteoarthritis."

There are a number of risk factors and causes that can lead to osteoarthritis. Among those causes includes previous trauma, inflammation, obesity, metabolic disorders (such as thyroids disease and diabetes), and family history or genetics. Evidence has shown that previous infected joint (also called Septic Joint) can be a precursor to osteoarthritis. When a joint becomes infected, because of the increased amount of inflammation and release of many bio-molecules, it can result in damage to a particular bone structure; leading to osteoarthritis.

Infections and medical conditions can damage the joint, leading to inflammation and osteoarthritis (OA). Osteoarthritis that is caused by infection or injury is called secondary osteoarthritis.

Medical conditions that may cause OA include:

  • Bleeding disorders, such as hemophilia
  • Avascular necrosis, a disorder that blocks the blood supply near a joint
  • Chronic gout
Dr. Mehmet Oz, MD
Cardiologist (Heart Specialist)

Septic arthritis, or an infection in a joint, can cause intense pain and swelling, and can damage the joint enough that it eventually develops osteoarthritis (OA). Fortunately, septic arthritis is rare. It's also so painful that it will probably send you to the doctor or emergency room quickly. This is good, because if septic arthritis is treated promptly (often with antibiotics), it usually clears up completely and does not cause any permanent damage.

An infection somewhere else in your body (not in a joint) can cause reactive arthritis, also known as Reiter's syndrome. In addition to joint pain and swelling, reactive arthritis can cause conjunctivitis (redness and swelling in the eyes) and urinary tract inflammation (urethritis). Reactive arthritis is usually caused by an infection with the bacterium chlamydia. The symptoms usually last 3-12 months. But for some people, the symptoms don't go away, or they go away and come back. Long-term reactive arthritis can lead to joint damage that can lead to OA.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.