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Septic Arthritis


Septic arthritis is a bacterial, viral, or fungal infection in one or more of your joints. The germ can travel to the joint from another part of your body. A puncture wound near the joint can bring the germ directly into the joint. Septic arthritis usually affects large joints, such as in the knee, hip, shoulder, ankle, and elbow. Septic arthritis needs immediate medical care to prevent permanent joint damage.


Informed consent

is a legal document that explains the tests, treatments, or procedures that you may need. Informed consent means you understand what will be done and can make decisions about what you want. You give your permission when you sign the consent form. You can have someone sign this form for you if you are not able to sign it. You have the right to understand your medical care in words you know. Before you sign the consent form, understand the risks and benefits of what will be done. Make sure all your questions are answered.


  • Antibiotics are given to fight infection caused by bacteria. You may get antibiotics through your IV.
  • Steroids help reduce swelling and pain.
  • Pain medicine may be given. Do not wait until the pain is severe before you ask for more medicine.


  • A fluid sample from the joint may be tested for signs of infection. The test may show if the infection is caused by bacteria, a virus, or a fungus.
  • Blood tests are used to measure the amount of inflammation in your body. The tests may also show signs of infection, such as an increased white blood cell count.
  • An x-ray, CT, or MRI may be used to check for joint damage, swelling, or loss of bone. Do not enter the MRI room with any metal. Metal can cause serious damage. Tell the healthcare provider if you have any metal in or on your body.
  • An ultrasound may show fluid that has moved out of the joint. This may be a sign of septic arthritis.


  • Arthroscopy is a procedure used to drain the fluid from around the joint. The infected lining around the joint may also be removed.
  • Surgery may be needed to drain the fluid if other treatments do not work.
  • A drain may be placed after arthroscopy or surgery. The drain may help remove fluid that builds up after the procedure or surgery.


Septic arthritis can lead to joint, cartilage, or bone destruction. You may develop a life-threatening blood infection called sepsis. Septic arthritis may lead to infection in another part of your body and cause organ damage. You may need surgery to fuse your joints or to increase joint function. You may also need to have your arm or leg removed if the infection becomes severe.


You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment.

© 2016 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.