Complications of Rheumatoid
Unlike osteoarthritis, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) doesn’t
only affect the joints. RA is an autoimmune disease that can also affect many
body organs and cause symptoms that
range from mild to severe. Fortunately, treatment can prevent or delay many of
the complications of RA.
Bone and Joint Disease
RA does not only
cause 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. In severe cases, when there is
severe loss of cartilage, the bones become deformed and can fuse, causing the
joint to become immobilized.
Joint damage is often permanent and irreversible.
However, total joint replacement surgery may be an option for some joints.
Early, 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 for several reasons including:
- they are both more common in older women and smokers
- the corticosteroids commonly used in the treatment of
RA can cause osteoporosis
- RA may directly cause bone loss in affected joints
Talk to your doctor about steps you can take to prevent
bone loss. Your doctor may recommend calcium and vitamin D supplements.
Both RA and its treatment can
affect your quality of life in a number of ways.
Pain from RA may wake patients several times during the
night, preventing restorative sleep. In
addition, several RA drugs can cause insomnia.
Joint damage and pain can keep you from performing
normal everyday tasks. It may become difficult to do even simple things like
getting dressed or using a computer mouse.
RA symptoms can also affect your ability to work. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that people with RA are substantially more
- change jobs
- reduce work hours
- retire early
- lose their job
According to the CDC, RA is the 19th leading
cause of years lost to disability in the United States.
The stress of RA and the lifestyle changes it causes can
- loss of self-esteem
- feelings of helplessness
- clinical depression
- anxiety disorders
In addition to
joint problems, RA also increases the risk of whole-body illness. People with
RA are at particularly high risk of cardiovascular disease and infections.
Anemia is a low level of red blood cells in the body. It
Widespread inflammation caused by RA can affect
production of red blood cells. According to an article published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, this makes anemia very common among RA patients.
Rheumatoid lung is a group of lung conditions commonly
found in RA patients. These conditions 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 hypertension)
It’s not known why RA leads to these problems. Symptoms of rheumatoid lung
- shortness of breath
- chest pain
- persistent cough
RA sometimes causes inflammation in and around the
heart. It can cause both pericarditis and myocarditis. Pericarditis
is inflammation of the membrane lining the heart. Myocarditis is inflammation
of the heart muscle itself.
Inflammation around the heart can lead to congestive heart
failure (CHF). CHF is a serious condition where the heart cannot adequately
pump blood to the rest of the body.
People with RA also have an increased risk of:
- heart attack
- hardening of the arteries
- blood vessel inflammation
Sjögren's syndrome is an autoimmune disease commonly
linked to RA. The disease attacks moisture-producing cells, like the salivary
and tear glands.
According to the Mayo Clinic, Sjögren's syndrome is most
prevalent in women. It’s characterized by:
- dry eyes
- dry mouth
- problems with swallowing and talking
Sjögren's can also cause digestive and neurological