The effects of
arthritis (RA), unlike osteoarthritis,
affects more than just your joints. RA is an autoimmune disease that can also
affect your organs and cause symptoms that range from mild to severe. Treatment
can prevent or delay many of the complications of RA.
and joint health
RA not only causes joint pain and stiffness. It can also
cause long-term problems with bone and joint health.
Progressive inflammation from RA can destroy the cartilage
and bone around affected joints. Severe loss of cartilage can lead to bones
becoming deformed and fusing. This can cause the joint to become
Joint damage is often irreversible. Total joint replacement
surgery may be an option for some joints, like the knees.
Early and aggressive treatment with disease-modifying
antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) may prevent or delay joint damage.
Osteoporosis is a loss of bone density. It makes
fractures more likely. According to the Mayo
Clinic, RA sufferers are at increased risk of osteoporosis. Some reasons for
- RA and osteoporosis being more common in older women
- the use of corticosteroids in the treatment of RA
- the potential for RA to directly cause bone loss in
Talk to your doctor about steps you can take to prevent bone
loss. Your doctor may recommend calcium and vitamin D supplements, or even
medications named bisphosphonates.
Both RA and its treatment can affect quality of life in a
number of ways.
Pain from RA may wake patients several times during the
night, preventing restorative sleep. RA patients may also have fibromyalgia, which
can disturb sleep.
Joint damage and pain can keep you from performing normal
everyday tasks. It may become difficult to perform such simple tasks as getting
dressed or using a computer mouse.
RA symptoms can also affect your ability to work. The Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that people with RA are
substantially more likely to:
- change jobs
- reduce work hours
- retire early
- lose their job
RA especially affects the work life of service workers and
people whose jobs are physically demanding.
The stress of RA and the lifestyle changes it causes can
- loss of self-esteem
- feelings of helplessness
- clinical depression
- anxiety disorders
RA increases the risk of other conditions as well. People
with RA are at higher risk of cardiovascular disease and infections.
is a low level of red blood cells in the body. It causes:
Widespread inflammation caused by RA can lower production of
red blood cells. This makes anemia more common among RA patients, according to
an article published in the Journal of the
American Dietetic Association.
Rheumatoid lung is a group of lung conditions that may be
found in RA patients. These include:
- fluid in the lungs or chest cavity (pleural effusions)
- scarring of the lungs (pulmonary fibrosis)
- lumps of tissue (nodules)
- high blood pressure in the lungs (pulmonary
Symptoms of rheumatoid lung include:
- shortness of breath
- chest pain
- persistent cough
RA sometimes causes inflammation in or around the heart. It
can cause both myocarditis
and pericarditis. Pericarditis is inflammation of the membrane covering the
heart. Myocarditis is inflammation of the heart muscle itself.
Both conditions can lead to congestive
heart failure (CHF). CHF is a serious condition in which the heart cannot adequately
pump blood to the rest of the body, and fluid collects in the lungs.
People with RA also have an increased risk of:
- heart attack
- hardening of the arteries
- blood vessel inflammation
syndrome is an autoimmune condition commonly linked to RA. The disease
attacks moisture-producing cells, such as the salivary and tear glands.
Sjogren’s syndrome is most prevalent in women. It’s
- dry eyes
- dry mouth and increased dental cavities
- vaginal dryness
- problems with swallowing and talking
Sjogren’s can also cause lung, kidney, digestive, and
The importance of RA treatment
It’s important to get the proper treatment for RA as early
as possible. Proper RA care can increase the likelihood of remission and reduce
the amount of joint damage and inflammation you experience. There are many
treatments available, ranging from physical and occupational therapy to
medications and surgery. Work closely with your doctor to develop a treatment
plan that works for you.