Viral arthritis is a form of arthritis which is caused by infection with a virus. Like other forms of arthritis, this condition is characterized by joint pain, swelling, and weakness. It often resolves on its own, although there are some treatment options to make patients more comfortable and to reduce the risk of long term damage as a result of a bout of viral arthritis. This condition is especially common in children, but it can appear in all ages.
Many people have noted that some types of viral infections are accompanied with joint pain. The joint pain is caused by the immune system's reaction to the virus, with certain compounds leaking into the synovial fluid which surrounds the joints and causing aches and pains. In viral arthritis, the joints become inflamed as a result of the immune response, and the pain becomes more persistent and severe.
In some cases, viral arthritis accompanies an infection, making it easy to identify, and treatment for the infection usually resolves the arthritis as well. Other cases may present after an infection has been treated and successfully eliminated. A doctor can diagnose arthritis with a patient interview, in which the patient may mention the recent viral infection, and the doctor can confirm that the issue is viral arthritis. This condition can also arise as a response to some vaccines, especially rubella.
Mild cases of viral arthritis can be allowed to run their course. However, a doctor may prescribe anti-inflammatory drugs to reduce the inflammation and swelling to keep the patient more comfortable, and analgesics may be recommended as well. The patient may also be encouraged to rest, drink plenty of fluids, and eat well to support the body while it heals. After the arthritis clears, gentle stretching and exercises can help resolve lingering stiffness in the joints.
In rare cases, the synovial fluid actually becomes infected, requiring surgery to drain the infected fluid. When viral arthritis turns septic, the patient may note that the joints are unusually painful, hot, or stiff, and they may appear red and inflamed. A doctor can take a sample of the fluid to check for infection and decide whether or not the fluid needs to be drained.
Patients should be aware that this condition can sometimes cause lasting damage to the joints, especially if it is recurrent, and it can develop into a chronic form of arthritis. For this reason, it's important to take good care of the body while recovering.