Septic arthritis

(Redirected from Gonococcal arthritis)

This page is for adult patients; for pediatric patients see septic arthritis (peds).


  • Most important diagnostic consideration in acute joint pain (can destroy joint in days)
  • Knee most commonly involved in adults; hip most common in pediatric
  • Most often seen in patients >65yr
  • Most common causative organisms

Clinical Features

  • Fever
  • Warm, red, painful, swollen joint
  • Decreased range of motion to active and passive movement
  • Gonococcal arthritis
    • Urethritis/vaginitis may be absent
    • May have prodromal phase:
      • Migratory arthritis and tenosynovitis predominate before pain and swelling occurs
      • Macularpapular rash or pustules especially on hands/feet may proceed overt arthritis
  • Endocarditis should be considered in the presence of 2 or more affected joints

Differential Diagnosis

Monoarticular arthritis

Algorithm for Monoarticular arthralgia


Synovial fluid from a septic knee


  • Arthrocentesis with synovial fluid analysis
    • cell count with differential
    • glucose
    • protein
    • bacterial culture and sensitivity (not 100% sn)
    • polarized light microscopy for crystals
  • CBC
  • ESR - Sn 94% (with 15mm/h cut-off)[2]
  • CRP - Sn 92% (with 20mg/L cut-off)
  • Blood Culture
  • Gonorrhea culture (urethral/cervical/pharyngeal/rectal)
  • Imaging (may be helpful for excluding other diagnoses - e.g. trauma, osteo, etc)
  • Immunocompromised
    • Consider mycobacterial or fungal arthritis
    • Leukemia history: predisposed to Aeromonas infections
  • Periprosthetic infection
    • Non-emergent: acute microbiological diagnosis is more important than rapid antibiotics
    • Diagnose with two synovial fluid cultures (avoid collection from a draining sinus)
    • CRP >100mg/L during first 6 weeks post-op warrants aspiration and may be used to differentiate from superficial skin infection

Arthrocentesis of synoval fluid

Synovium Normal Noninflammatory Inflammatory Septic
Clarity Transparent Transparent Cloudy Cloudy
Color Clear Yellow Yellow Yellow
WBC <200 <200-2000 200-50,000

>1,100 (prosthetic joint)

>25,000; LR=2.9

>50,000; LR=7.7

>100,000; LR=28

PMN <25% <25% >50%

>64% (prosthetic joint)


Culture Neg Neg Neg >50% positive
Lactate <5.6 mmol/L <5.6 mmol/L <5.6 mmol/L >5.6 mmol/L
LDH <250 <250 <250 >250
Crystals None None Multiple or none None
  • Viscosity of synovial fluid may actually be decreased in inflammatory or infectious etiologies, as hyaluronic acid concentrations decrease
  • The presence of crystals does not rule out septic arthritis; however, the diagnosis is highly unlikely with synovial WBC < 50,000[3]



For adults treatment should be divided into Gonococcal and Non-Gonococcal




Sickle Cell

Coverage for Salmonella and Staphylococcus spp

  • Vancomycin 20mg/kg IV twice daily PLUS
    • Ciprofloxacin 400mg IV three times daily OR
    • Imipenem/cilastatin 1g IV three times daily


  • Consult ortho for joint irrigation in OR if joint aspirate is indicative of infection
    • Benefit of serial aspirations vs arthroscopy vs irrigation and debridement is unclear


  • Admit all

See Also

External Links


  1. Carpenter CR, Schuur JD, Everett WW, Pines JM. Evidence-based diagnostics: adult septic arthritis. Acad Emerg Med. 2011;18(8):781-96.
  2. Hariharan, H, et al. Sensitivity of Erythrocyte Sedimentation Rate and C-reactive Protein for the Exclusion of Septic Arthritis in Emergency Department Patients. J of Emerg Med. 2010; 40(4):428–431.
  3. Shah K, Spear J, Nathanson LA, Mccauley J, Edlow JA. Does the presence of crystal arthritis rule out septic arthritis?. J Emerg Med. 2007;32(1):23-6.