Complications of Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid Arthritis complications are Secondary symptoms of RA

Rheumatoid Arthritis is considered primarily a musculoskeletal disease. Many rheumatologists even consider it to be a hand disease. Wherever RA begins, it eventually affects the hands.

Unfortunately, RA does not consider itself to be limited in these ways. RA attacks various organs and systems so commonly that it is actually inaccurate to call these extra-articular symptoms “Rheumatoid Arthritis complications.” Rather, they are “secondary” symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis.

Significance of secondary RA symptoms

Secondary symptoms of RA include secondary Sjogren’s syndrome, cricoarytenoid arthritis, pericarditis, heart disease, pleuritis, various types of eye inflammation, tendonitis, bursitis, anemia, vasculitis, neuropathy, Felty’s syndrome, carpel tunnel syndrome, and more. The same destructive process which occurs in the joints can occur anywhere in the body. Even though the secondary diseases of RA have their own names, their occurrence is part of the RA disease process.

It is important to recognize secondary symptoms of RA for three reasons: 

  1. Secondary symptoms may occur early in the course of the disease. Not recognizing that these are symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis can delay diagnosis of RA. Joint pain or stiffness may not always be the first obvious symptom of RA.
  2. Proper treatment of the disease (RA) may reduce the incidence or severity of secondary symptoms.
  3. Secondary symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis are often listed as cause of death for Rheumatoid Arthritis patients.

Secondary symptoms of RA should be treated

Regardless of whether Rheumatoid Arthritis prompted the secondary symptom, it must be treated. It is inappropriate to fail to treat any secondary symptom for the reason that it is “just RA.” Usually, the complaint is just as treatable in an RA patient as it is in anyone else.

Rheumatoid Arthritis patients are more likely to delay treatment for these secondary diseases because they are accustomed to enduring painful symptoms without complaining. Patients also become weary of seeking medical care. However, a painful symptom is always a sign that something is “wrong” and it should be treated, even in RA patients – or especially in RA patients. 

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