The Unexpected Complications of Rheumatoid Arthritis
However, what may end up slipping by are the complications that can occur as a result of the condition and the medications used to treat it. The same process that causes pain to the joints can also cause problems for the skin, eyes, lungs, blood vessels, and other organs in the body.
Knowing about the possible complications of RA can help both you and your doctor to treat these problems early on and to do so in an effective manner.
50% of people with RA develop firm lumps of tissue under the skin, known as rheumatoid nodules. These nodules can be seen near bony areas, such as your elbows, forearms, fingers, heels or knees. They may disappear on their own or you may need to consult with your doctor about prescribing a medication to shrink them. Some RA medications may also cause other skin changes, such as rashes or blisters. It is important to be aware of any skin changes and inform your doctor because in a few instances, as in the case of rheumatoid nodules, these lumps may also be a sign that your RA is advancing.
RA can affect your eyes in many ways. It can cause your immune system to attack your tear glands, triggering RA-associated Sjogren’s syndrome. If the symptoms of the syndrome, including eye dryness, are not treated, this can lead to infection and scarring of the conjunctiva. RA can also cause scleritis - inflammation of the episclera, which is the outer white area of your eye. Although the condition is generally mild, it can become more severe and lead to loss of vision if it is not properly treated.
RA can trigger inflammation in your lungs, known as pleurisy, causing you to experience symptoms such as shortness of breath, coughing, and chest pain. RA can also cause fibrosis – the formation of tissue changes and nodules in your lungs – or pleural effusion – the buildup of fluid around your lungs and chest cavity. Furthermore, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is an inflammatory lung disease that commonly occurs in people with RA. For this reason, it is important to check in with your doctor if you experience shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, or any other lung-related complications.
Blood vessel complications
RA can cause a low count of red blood cells, also known as anemia. Although anemia is not a direct complication of RA, there are certain RA medications that can potentially cause dangerously low levels of red blood cells. Symptoms of anemia include tiredness, dizziness, rapid heartbeat, and headaches. RA can also lead to high levels of blood platelets, known as thrombocytosis. Symptoms of thrombocytosis include headache, dizziness, chest pain, and numbness or tingling in your hands or feet. If thrombocytosis becomes severe, it can lead to conditions such as heart attack, stroke or clots in your blood vessels. Luckily, there are medications available to help control or treat both anemia and thrombocytosis. Furthermore, RA can trigger inflammation of the small blood vessels, known as vasculitis. This condition decreases the supply of blood to some areas of your body and affects the nerves of your hands and feet. Your doctor may prescribe a corticosteroid drug in order to help control the inflammation.
Did you know RA can also affect the heart? Read on to learn more.