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Complications of Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid Lung Disease

This group of lung diseases can include scarring in the lungs, fluid in the chest, lumps in the lungs, or other problems.

Methotrexate, the most commonly used disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drug (DMARD), can also cause lung problems in a small number of people.

Symptoms: There aren't always symptoms, but if there are, they may include cough, shortness of breath, or chest pain.You may want to ask your doctor about getting a chest X-ray or other tests to check for any problems.

Treatment: The first step is bringing inflammation under control. Your doctor may need to drain fluid around your lungs. If you have interstitial lung disease, your doctor may prescribe steroids or other medications to reduce scarring. If scar tissue has built up in the lungs, it can't be reversed, but medications may slow down the damage.

Blood Flow Problems: Vasculitis

Vasculitis is inflammation of the blood vessels. It's most common in advanced RA.

The amount of damage depends on the size of the arteries affected. Inflammation of small and medium arteries, like those that lead to the fingertips and nails, can damage skin and tissues. When vasculitis hits larger arteries, it can lead to nerve damage, loss of function in the arms or legs, or harm to internal organs.

Symptoms: Symptoms vary, depending on what part of the body is affected.   

Because vasculitis often means that RA has gotten worse, treatment usually involves getting RA under control.

Depression

Symptoms: Different people have different symptoms, but some of the most common symptoms of depression are deep feelings of sadness, anxiety, emptiness, hopelessness, worthlessness, and guilt; loss of interest in activities or hobbies that you once enjoyed; insomnia; and difficulty concentrating or making decisions.

Treatment: The most common treatments for depression are antidepressants and therapy, often together. If you have symptoms of depression, tell your doctor so that you can talk about the best treatment for you and get started ASAP.

Osteoporosis

In osteoporosis, bones are fragile and thin, making them more likely to break. People with RA are more likely than other people to get osteoporosis. RA itself may cause bone loss, and some medications, such as steroids, can cause bone loss. Also, if RA pain makes you less active, that may make you more likely to get osteoporosis.

Symptoms: Osteoporosis usually doesn't have any signs until its late stages, when people may have back pain, stooped posture, a curved upper back, and fractures. They may also lose height.

Treatment: Treating and preventing osteoporosis includes eating a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D, doing weight-bearing exercises such as walking or lifting weights, quitting smoking, and limiting alcohol. If needed, there are medications to treat and prevent osteoporosis.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by David Zelman, MD on June 25, 2013

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