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Complications of Rheumatoid Arthritis

When you have RA, you are more likely to also have certain other conditions, such as these:

  • Anemia
  • Heart disease
  • Sjogren's syndrome
  • Rheumatoid lung disease
  • Vasculitis
  • Depression
  • Osteoporosis

Anemia

If you have anemia, you have a low level of red blood cells, which carry oxygen to all parts of the body. Anemia is common in people with RA and can usually be treated. 

Anemia of chronic disease is often seen in people with inflammation. People with RA can also develop iron deficiency anemia. Certain RA medications can cause blood loss due to stomach irritation. These include anti-inflammatory drugs or steroids.

Symptoms: Fatigue, weakness, dizziness, headaches, and shortness of breath are the hallmarks of anemia. People with anemia sometimes have pale skin, brittle nails, cold hands and feet, chest pain, or an irregular heartbeat.

Treatment: When someone with RA has anemia, the first step is to reduce inflammation and get RA under control. Some RA drugs also help treat anemia caused by chronic disease.

Other treatments include iron supplements, if you have  iron deficiency anemia.

You can also get anemia due to blood loss. Some RA medications can cause blood loss due to stomach irritation. It’s important to find the cause of any blood loss.

Heart Disease

People with RA are more likely than other people to get heart disease or have a stroke.  

Doctors aren’t sure why that is. It may be related to inflammation.

Symptoms: Heart disease does not always show symptoms before a crisis (like a heart attack or stroke) happens. Your doctor can check on your cholesterol, blood pressure, and other risk factors.

Treatment: As in people without RA, a heart-healthy diet and regular exercise are key to preventing heart disease and stroke. Other important steps are quitting smoking, losing extra weight (which also helps your joints), and reducing stress. Your doctor may also prescribe medication to lower cholesterol or blood pressure.

Eye Problems: Sjogren’s Syndrome

Sjogren’s syndrome affects the glands that make tears and saliva. It's related to inflammation and is usually less severe in people who also have RA than in those who don't have RA.

Symptoms: For people with RA, the most common symptom of Sjogren's is dry eyes and mouth. The condition can also show up as dry skin, less sweating, and dry coughing.

Treatment: The main treatment for dry eyes is artificial tears. Some people may need special eye lubricants. Severe cases may need medications to suppress the inflammation. Rare cases need surgery to help preserve tears.

For dry mouth, sip water often. Sucking on sugarless candies prompts your body to make saliva. Severe cases may need medication.

Take good care of your teeth to prevent tooth decay. This includes regular flossing and using fluoride toothpaste and rinses. See your dentist every 6 months.

WebMD Medical Reference

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