Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA): Not Just a Joint Disease

Rheumatoid Arthritis is an ongoing inflammatory autoimmune disease that primarily affects the small joints.

Contributor: Qingping Yao, MD, PhD

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Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is an ongoing inflammatory autoimmune disease that primarily affects the small joints. In patients with an autoimmune disorder, the immune system can’t tell the difference between healthy body tissue and antigens. The result is an immune response that destroys normal body tissues.

RA causes joint pain, pain to touch, enlargement, stiffness in the morning and even joint twisting. It can eventually lead to inability to use the joint normally and even disability in some cases.

Depending on the severity, RA can inflict other parts of a patient’s body. It is important to seek medical help to treat your RA.

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Other health conditions caused by RA:

  • Rheumatoid nodules: About 20 to 30 percent of patients with RA suffer from lumps on the limbs, called rheumatoid nodules. These lumps may be present on the elbow, fingers, heels, toes, the back of the head, and even in the lung. They are usually not painful or painful to touch. They are not tumors but their presence may signal that the illness is more severe.
  • Rheumatoid Vasculitis: On rare occasions, RA individuals can have rash, skin soreness/superficial wounds, or small brown spots on the tips of the fingers. These types of skin disease may indicate that the ailment is more severe.
  • Pericarditis: RA patients can develop respiratory symptoms such as cough, chest pain and shortness of breath, which signal the presence of fluid or inflammation around the heart. Some will have an abnormal voice. If chest X-rays show patchy whiteness or changes in the lung, there may be the interstitial lung disease, which causes difficulty getting air in and out of the blood stream through the lung.
  • Episcleritis or Sicca syndrome (Sjögren’s syndrome): Red and sore eyes, particularly on the white parts of the eyeball is called episcleritis, while dry/sandy eyes is called sicca syndrome or Sjogren’s syndrome.
  • Felty’s syndrome: RA patients can have fever, infections like urinary tract infection, a low white blood cell count, and larger spleen.

Additionally, people can have bone loss or weakened bone strength. RA can lead to serious health issues and should be treated to keep these conditions at bay.

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