The Physical Complications of Rheumatoid Arthritis
Joints and Muscles
Persistent inflammation can cause joint damage and deformities, especially in your hands and feet. Additionally, because RA causes bone loss, it puts you at higher risk for osteoporosis.
RA also causes damage the muscles surrounding the joints. Muscle atrophy results from ongoing inflammation and not using muscles due to pain.
Skin, Eyes, and Mouth
Small hard lumps, called nodules, caused by inflammation may develop on or near the joints. Skin ulcers and patches may result from inflammation of blood vessels.
Studies show at least a quarter of the people with RA also have secondary Sjogren’s syndrome. Sjogren’s causes severe dryness, especially in the eyes, mouth, and throat.
Dryness caused by Sjogren’s can lead to eye complications, difficulty swallowing and tooth and mouth problems. Some people experience swollen neck and face glands, dry nasal passages and dry skin and women may have virginal dryness.
Too much inflammation around the heart can lead to a serious condition called pericardial effusion. This is where abnormal amounts of fluid build-up around the heart and put pressure on the heart, causing poor function.
If left untreated, pericardial effusion can lead to heart failure and/or death.
RA inflammation can also affect muscles, valves and blood vessels of the heart. According to the Arthritis Foundation, RA doubles the risk of heart problems, including stroke and heart attack.
Blood vessel inflammation may cause a condition called vasculitis, often seen in people with advanced RA. Vasculitis is a sign your RA is severe and more aggressive therapies are needed to get it under control.
Uncontrolled inflammation can cause a reduction in red blood cells leading to anemia. Treatment requires controlling inflammation and iron supplements to normalize red blood cell counts.
RA can scar the lungs, cause fluid buildup in the chest and promote nodule growth in the lungs. Warning signs of lung problems include a cough, shortness of breath and chest pain.
Higher Risk for Infection
People with are RA are more susceptible to infection because their immune systems attack healthy tissues rather than fighting off invaders and because of harsh medications used to treat the disease.
Next page: Rheumatoid arthritis is emotionally demanding for numerous reasons. Learn more about the emotional health complications of rheumatoid arthritis.