Challenges in diagnosing septic arthritis.
Because septic arthritis can quickly lead to permanent cartilage damage and even death, rapid and appropriate therapy is essential. However, diagnosing septic arthritis isn’t necessarily straightforward because the symptoms are similar to those of other joint diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, and gout.3
In order to test for the presence of pathogens, a sample of joint fluid is extracted with a needle in a procedure called arthrocentesis. This fluid, called synovial fluid, acts as a lubricant within a joint. A lab will try to culture pathogens from the sample to help pinpoint what is causing the infection. This usually takes 48–72 hours, but sometimes even longer depending on the pathogen.
Because it can take so long to get culture results—and joint damage can occur rapidly—clinicians generally prescribe broad-spectrum antibiotics while awaiting lab results. Unfortunately, overuse of antibiotics exacerbates the problem of antimicrobial resistance and may cause unpleasant side effects for patients.