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Conditions You May Have Along With RA

Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on October 01, 2020

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a painful, long-term condition where your immune system attacks your body’s tissues. It can cause inflammation that swells and deforms your joints and wears away bone.

RA affects your whole body. Besides your joints, it can also damage your skin, eyes, lungs, heart, blood vessels, and more.

Some people also have other conditions alongside RA. Here’s a look at some of the conditions that may come up.

Eyes

Dry eyes can be an issue. With RA, you’re more likely to have Sjogren’s syndrome, an autoimmune condition that targets the glands that make tears and saliva. Your eyes feel dry and gritty, as if there’s sand in them. Artificial tears can keep your eyes moist and ward off eye damage.

Also, medications that ease inflammation and pain and slow RA from getting worse can also cause eye conditions like glaucoma and cataracts, and in rare cases, pigment changes that lead to vision loss. If you take hydroxychloroquine or a corticosteroid, be sure to see your eye doctor at least once a year.

Other eye conditions seen in RA include episcleritis (inflammation of the episclera, the eye wall’s outer coating) and scleritis (inflammation of the sclera, the “white” of the eye).

Heart and Blood Vessels

RA can raise your chance of hardened and blocked arteries, as well as swelling and irritation of the thin lining that surrounds your heart.

When you have RA, your chance of having a heart attack or stroke goes up. These conditions happen when plaque from RA-damaged blood vessels breaks free and blocks other vessels.

RA can also cause heart valve issues, nodules on the heart, heart failure, and atrial fibrillation (AFib).

A 10-year study from Taiwan also shows that people with RA were more likely to get a deep vein thrombosis (DVT) or pulmonary embolism (PE), two dangerous types of blood clots. The reasons for the increased risk aren’t clear.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

The inflammation from RA can affect the lining around your wrist tendons. It puts pressure on the nerve that runs from your forearm to your wrist and hand (median nerve).

If this happens, you may have tingling, numbness, or weakness -- the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome. Drugs that fight inflammation can help to soothe pain.

Osteoporosis

This bone-thinning disease can result from long-term inflammation from RA. Research shows that older adults who’ve had osteoporosis for a long time are also more likely to have RA. Weight-bearing exercise, a nutritious diet, and medication are all treatments for osteoporosis. With RA, you might need to choose types of weight-bearing exercises that aren’t high-impact, such as walking, hiking, swimming, or water aerobics.

Depression

People with RA are more likely to have depression. There could be many reasons for that, including the stress of managing a chronic condition that can be painful and affect your daily life. Know the signs of depression and get help from your doctor or a licensed counselor. Depression symptoms include:

  • Feeling sad or worthless
  • Losing interest in things you usually enjoy
  • Sleep problems (sleeping too much or having trouble sleeping)
  • Low energy
  • Weight changes
  • Thoughts of suicide (Help is available 24/7 by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.)

Depression treatment may include therapy, medication, and lifestyle change.

Liver and Kidneys

The issue here isn’t all from RA itself, but treatment side effects from taking certain medications for a long time. The most common RA drugs that cause health problems are:

Your doctor will check your liver and kidneys to make sure they’re working well.

Lungs

In as many 80% of people with RA, the lungs are affected to some degree, but usually not enough to cause symptoms. It’s not common, but if it’s severe and long-lasting, that could lead to breathing problems and a condition called pulmonary fibrosis, which worsens over time. Although there’s no cure, treatments such as medication, oxygen therapy, and counseling can slow the disease.

Gastrointestinal Problems

It’s not common, but some people with RA also have another autoimmune disease. These include inflammatory bowel disease (IBD): Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. Researchers are still looking into the connection.

Or you might have GI issues because of a medication you take for Crohn’s or due to an infection.

Skin

RA can cause rheumatoid nodules, which are lumps right below the skin. They’re the same color as the rest of your skin, and they can range in size.

Type 1 Diabetes

Scientists have pinpointed a gene that raises the odds of having type 1 diabetes as well as RA. People with other types of diabetes could also have RA, and vice versa, but the risk doesn’t seem to be higher than for other people.

Cancer

Some research shows that people with RA are slightly more likely to get some types of cancers, such as lymphoma, than people without RA. It’s not clear if the risk is related to long-term use of certain medications or to RA itself.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

Arthritis Foundation: “How Rheumatoid Arthritis Affects More Than Joints,” “Rheumatoid Arthritis and Cancer Risk.”

Mayo Clinic: “Rheumatoid arthritis,” “Sjogren’s syndrome,” “Carpal tunnel syndrome.”

American Lung Association: “How Is Pulmonary Fibrosis Treated?”

Archives of Cardiovascular Disease: “High risk of clinical cardiovascular events in rheumatoid arthritis: Levels of associations of myocardial infarction and stroke through a systematic review and meta-analysis.”

Reumatologia: “Comorbidities in rheumatic arthritis.”

BMC Gastroenterology: “The risk of rheumatoid arthritis among patients with inflammatory bowel disease: a systematic review and meta-analysis.”

CDC: “Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).”

American College of Rheumatology: “What is a Rheumatologist?”

Diabetes Care: “Prevalence of Diagnosed Arthritis and Arthritis-Attributable Activity Limitation Among Adults With and Without Diagnosed Diabetes: United States, 2008–2010.”

Diabetes.co.uk: “Rheumatoid Arthritis and Diabetes.”

Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases: “Rheumatoid arthritis increases the risk of deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary thromboembolism: a nationwide cohort study.”

Current Opinion in Rheumatology: “Depression and the risk of rheumatoid arthritis.”

Mentalhealth.gov: “Depression.”

American Osteopathic College of Dermatology: “Rheumatoid Nodules.”

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