Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic, autoimmune, inflammatory, and systemic disease affecting the joint’s synovial lining and other connective tissues as well. It’s a disease with a fluctuating course, with periods of active disease and, alternately, remission. Unlike osteoarthritis, RA does not only affect joints. It could also affect various organs in the body such as eyes, skin, lings, heart, and blood vessels which could cause symptoms from mild to severe.
As rheumatoid arthritis progresses, it can destroy both the cartilage and bones of the affected joints. In severe cases, the bones will be deformed and will fuse. As a result, the joint will become immobilized. This joint damage is permanent and irreversible.
Rheumatoid nodules are lumps of tissue developed under the skin. The nodules are commonly seen on the fingers, forearms, elbows, and heels. Rheumatoid nodules can also develop in the lungs and heart.
Individuals with rheumatoid arthritis have a higher chance of developing osteoporosis. This is because the corticosteroids used in the treatment of RA can cause osteoporosis. In addition, the disease can directly cause bone loss in the affected joints.
A common complication of rheumatoid arthritis in the eyes is the inflammation of the episclera. The episclera is a thin membrane that covers the white of the eye, called sclera.
If left untreated, this will lead to scleritis, which is more serious and can result to loss of vision.
Anemia is described as low level of red blood cells. Rheumatoid arthritis can affect the production of red blood cells due to a widespread inflammation.
Sjogren syndrome is a condition where the body’s immune system attacks the lacrimal glands which produce tears. This condition makes your eyes dry and will make you feel gritty. Dryness could lead to infection as well as scarring of the cornea and conjunctiva if it is not treated properly.
People with rheumatoid arthritis are more susceptible to infection. It can be either be caused by the disease itself or the immune-suppressing agents used to treat RA.
RA can cause inflammation into the heart, which can lead to myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle) and pericarditis (inflammation of the membrane lining the heart).
It could also cause inflammation around the heart that will result to congestive heart failure (CHF). Other conditions that may develop due to RA include heart attack, blood vessel inflammation and hardening of arteries.
An uncommon complication of RA where the spleen is enlarged and the body’s white blood cell is low. Having this condition may increase the risk of cancer of the lymph glands, called lymphoma.
As mentioned earlier, rheumatoid nodules could also form in the lungs. Although harmless, rheumatoid nodules can lead to collapsed lung, pleural effusion, infection and coughing of blood.
Pulmonary hypertension and interstitial lung diseases are also complications of rheumatoid arthritis.
Blood Vessel Problem
RA can cause vasculitis, the inflammation of blood vessels. Vasculitis causes thickening, weakening, narrowing and scarring of the walls of blood vessels.
In severe cases, the blood flow going to the different organs and tissues in the body is affected. This will then be a life threatening condition.
People with rheumatoid arthritis may experience psychological problems such as anxiety, depression, feelings of helplessness, and loss of self-esteem.
To prevent and or manage these complications, it is important to recognize the problems and obtain treatment as early as possible. Some of these problems may just appear as a simple problem to you that could not be related to RA, but mentioning these problems can save you from having serious problems in the future.