When you have RA, you're more likely to have certain other conditions. You and your doctor can work together to treat them. Use this list to know what symptoms to look for and why they happen.
If you have this condition, you don’t have enough red blood cells. Their job is to carry oxygen to all parts of your body. Many people with RA have it, and it can be treated.
People with anemia sometimes also have pale skin, brittle nails, cold hands and feet, chest pain, or an irregular heartbeat. Or you may not have any symptoms at all.
Treatment: When someone with RA has anemia, the first step is to lower inflammation and get the RA under control. You may also need to take iron supplements if you're low on iron.
You can also get anemia from blood loss. Some RA medications can irritate your stomach and cause it. Your doctor will look for and treat the cause.
People with RA are more likely than others to get heart disease or have a stroke. Doctors aren’t sure why. It may be related to inflammation.
Symptoms: Heart disease doesn't always show symptoms before a crisis (like a heart attack or stroke) happens. You may have chest pain after you’re active. Your doctor can check your cholesterol, blood pressure, and other things that can help predict illness.
Treatment: If you have heart disease, your doctor will talk with you about your diet, exercise, weight, and stress. If you smoke, quit. Your doctor can give you advice to help with that. She may also prescribe drugs that lower cholesterol or blood pressure.
Eye Problems: Sjogren’s Syndrome
This condition affects the glands that make tears and saliva. It's related to inflammation.
Symptoms: For people with RA, the most common symptom of Sjogren's is dry eyes and mouth. It can also show up as dry skin, dry coughing, and vaginal dryness.
Treatment: Artificial tears are the usual treatment for dry eyes. Some people may need special eye lubricants. Severe cases may require medications to tame the inflammation.
If you have dry mouth, sip water often. Suck on sugarless candies so your body will make more saliva. If your case is severe, you may need medicine for it.
Rheumatoid Lung Disease
This group of diseases can include scarring in the lungs, fluid in the chest, nodules in the lungs, or other problems. It’s rare, but the drug methotrexate, which many people with RA take, can also cause lung problems.
Symptoms: There aren't always warning signs, but when there are, they may include cough, shortness of breath, or chest pain. Ask your doctor if you should get a chest X-ray or other tests to check for problems.
Treatment: The first step is to control inflammation. Your doctor may need to drain fluid around your lungs. If you have interstitial lung disease, which causes scarring, your doctor may prescribe steroids or other medications to reduce its progress. If scar tissue has built up in your lungs, it will stay, but medications may slow down the damage.
Vasculitis (Blood Flow Problems)
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. Inflammation of small and medium arteries, like those that lead to the fingertips and nails, can harm skin and tissues. When vasculitis hits larger arteries, it can lead to nerve damage, problems using your arms or legs, or damage to your internal organs.
Symptoms: These vary, depending on what part of the body is affected.
Treatment: Because vasculitis often means that RA is more severe, your doctor will focus on getting your disease under control. You may need even more intense treatment.
Not everyone with RA gets depressed, but depression isn’t unusual in people who have the disease.
Symptoms may include:
- Deep feelings of sadness, anxiety, emptiness, hopelessness, worthlessness, and guilt
- Loss of interest in things you once enjoyed
- Trouble concentrating or making decisions
Treatment: Many people talk with a counselor and take antidepressants, if needed. If you have symptoms of depression, tell your doctor. That way, you can work together to figure out the best treatment for you and get started ASAP.
In this condition, bones are fragile and thin, making them more likely to break. People with RA are more likely than other people to get osteoporosis. The disease may also cause bone loss, and so can some medications, like steroids. Also, if RA pain makes you less active, you might be more likely to get osteoporosis.
Symptoms: Bone density tests can tell you if you have it. Otherwise, you might not know until its late stages. You could have back pain, stooped posture, a curved upper back, and fractures. You might also lose height.
Treatment: Take these steps to treat and prevent osteoporosis: Eat a diet rich in calcium and vitamin D, do weight-bearing exercises like walking or lifting weights, quit smoking, and limit alcohol. If needed, there are medications to treat and prevent the condition.