Rheumatoid Arthritis Complications

How to view Rheumatoid Arthritis complications

Typically, Rheumatoid Arthritis has extra-articular manifestations. That means it attacks the body outside of the joints. Seems like RA doesn’t know how to be only arthritis.

In RA 101, I wrote that Rheumatoid Arthritis complications are secondary symptoms of RA. I’ve wondered whether the word complications serves us well since we want people to understand that RA is a complex autoimmune disease. I once said “stop saying complications of Rheumatoid Arthritis; Rheumatoid Arthritis is complicated.”

The way we view the secondary symptoms of RA may make a difference in how we treat them. Often, patients discuss whether to be treated for a condition or whether it’s just RA related. It seems only right that the condition should be treated just as urgently if it is a Rheumatoid Arthritis complication. The effects are the same.

Complications of Rheumatoid Arthritis can be serious

There’s nothing funny about an autopsy. Well maybe there is if you watch NCIS, I guess. But seriously, it is often the complications of Rheumatoid Arthritis that end up listed as a cause of death for RA patients. Most often that is heart related, but there are many other less critical dangers.

Rheumatoid Arthritis can also cause serious problems in the lungs, eyes, vocal cords, veins, nerves, or spinal cord. RA can lead to things such as anemia, carpel tunnel syndrome, Felty’s syndrome, Sjögren’s syndrome, tendonitis, bursitis, and loss of muscle strength. That is not an exhaustive list so you might add anything I missed in your comments.

We need to do all we can to fight RA “complications.” Hopefully, it will help to make extra efforts to make healthy choices about things like smoking, eating, and getting prompt medical attention. I have not seen proof that the new medicines we take for RA have greatly impacted extra-articular manifestations of RA in a positive way, but that is our hope.

Some lists of secondary RA symptoms:

Recommended reading:

Kelly Young

Kelly Young is an advocate providing ways for patients to be better informed and have a greater voice in their healthcare. She is the president of the Rheumatoid Patient Foundation. Kelly received national acknowledgement with the 2011 WebMD Health Hero award. Through her writing, speaking, and use of social media, she is building a more accurate awareness of Rheumatoid disease aka Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) geared toward the public and medical community; creating ways to empower patients to advocate for improved diagnosis and treatment; and bringing recognition and visibility to the Rheumatoid patient journey. In 2009, Kelly created Rheumatoid Arthritis Warrior, a comprehensive website about RA of about 950 pages and writes periodically for other newsletters and websites. Kelly served on the Mayo Clinic Center for Social Media Advisory Board. There are over 42,000 connections of her highly interactive Facebook Fan page. She created the hashtag: #rheum. Kelly is the mother of five, a home-schooler, Bible teacher, NASA enthusiast, and NFL fan. You can also connect with Kelly by on Twitter or YouTube, or LinkedIn. She has lived over nine years with unrelenting Rheumatoid disease. See also http://www.rawarrior.com/kelly-young-press/

20 thoughts on “Rheumatoid Arthritis Complications

  • April 23, 2010 at 12:01 pm
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    You can add Reynaud’s to that list. I think mine is a result of the swelling of the wrists and ankles that cuts off the nerves to the hands and feet. My fingers and toes turn deathly white and then purple to black. It would be a cool party trick if it would happen on demand. Kind of freaks a lot of people out.

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    • April 23, 2010 at 12:45 pm
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      Yes, that would freak me out, Mary.
      Do you do anything to treat that? Did the dr say whether there’s any danger?

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      • April 23, 2010 at 1:37 pm
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        When it is really bad I take a beta blocker. It increases blood flow. It is really only a problem for me in the winter. I just have to keep my hands and feet warm and avoid any extreme cold. My hands usually change back to normal fairly quickly. The pain it creates quickly dissipates. It is more annoying than anything else. People with extreme cases may see a clubbing of the finger tips.

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    • April 24, 2010 at 10:41 am
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      Mary, I have intermittent Raynauds’s as well. In fact, Aug. 2008 my early symptoms of RA were Raynaud’s, dry eyes, and pain in my shoulder and hip. I went to see a Rheumatologist at a renowned university hospital here in Germany for these symptoms.

      In addition to my symptoms, I informed him I have three sisters who each have a different autoimmune diseases, leukemia, pemphigus, and lupus. He said I didn’t have lupus, but never did a CCP or Rheumatoid factor despite my complaint of joint pain. His final diagnosis was “no lupus or any other autoimmune disease”.

      In February of this year, my disease was diagnosed and I had a rheumatoid factor of 1630 and CCP or 340.

      I have very severe symptoms now as my rheumatoid arthritis went rogue and proliferated throughout all my joints after I had a bout of tonsillitis in February. I’m still trying to obtain optimal relief with medication management.

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  • April 23, 2010 at 5:01 pm
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    Ah, Kelly, what a topic to take on. I’m so flipping beyond knowing what’s a side effect, a drug interaction, allergies and complications of other diseases that I can’t even begin to pick them apart. People with RA also have a higher risk of celiac disease, if I remember correctly. And don’t most of us end up with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, it probably even had something to do with my premature menopause.

    It just feels like dominoes falling anymore :teeth:

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  • April 23, 2010 at 5:17 pm
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    I experienced the “complications” long before the RA was even diagnosed-although it was highly suspected but I was seronegative.I eventually was treated for it regardless.Only 3 years ago, did I show anti-CCP antibodies. We need more sensitive tests to diagnose all the specific autoimmune diseases, and come up with more effective treatment so it doesn’t proceed to the “complication” stage, not just the joint destruction part of RA stage being the only goal.

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  • April 23, 2010 at 11:30 pm
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    Don’t forget eye disorders. I’m 39, and was recently diagnosed with a cataract caused by RA and exacerbated by steroid meds. That was the good news, since it could have been RA-related and/or RA medication-induced eye conditions. I still have ongoing pain, irritation, and dryness in both eyes and severe and frequent headaches in the eyeball that has the cataract. I am fortunate to have an eye specialist who is familiar with the effects of RA on the eye, but am frustrated that there seems little that can be done to alleviate the symptoms I’m having.

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    • April 23, 2010 at 11:31 pm
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      oops…edit needed

      …could have been OTHER (and more severe) RA conditions…

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    • April 26, 2010 at 8:16 am
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      Sunny, I’m not sure which eye symptoms you are referring to that cannot be relieved. That’s awful. I’m so glad you found an eye dr. who understands the connection. The last one I saw told me to use Omega-3 capsules to help with the dryness – it does help. He still wrote the prescription, too.

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  • April 24, 2010 at 10:03 pm
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    I have had pleurisy, bursitis in my hips, even my liver was inflamed for a while. I have frequent kidney infections now and the constant state of inflammation causes real problems with my asthma. It is a SYSTEMIC disease. I don’t believe it just stays in the joints. It permeates my entire body.

    My rheumatologist told me I am just going to have issues like this. It just goes with the territory. The trick is catching them before they get out of hand.

    This has been a really tough month for me and my disease. It is hard to cope with anything when I feel like my body is falling apart and sadly, it is starting to feel like a real disability now. Don’t know what i would do without my family and this website.

    Heather

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  • April 24, 2010 at 10:06 pm
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    Does anyone have issues with high or low blood sugar?

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  • January 17, 2011 at 10:03 am
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    Rheumatoid Vasculitis as an additional complication

    Ive recently developed small blood blisters on the corners of my nails ( not under my nails ) – on googling this I see its a sign of Rheumatoid Vasculitis… I believe the correct terminology is NAIL FOLD INFARCTS ( there are pics on the internet when you google this ) Has anyone seen this before or had a Rheumatologist mention this/explain this?

    I am so worried I now have this!.. I believe its very rare – appearing in 2% of people with RA – but very serious!!!

    I also have huge pressure behind my left eye and a feeling that I have fluid in my left ear. Slight redness and the clarity is not good at all in the eye… I did have a full eye test 2 weeks ago – all was ok.

    Also I have small bruises – about the size of a dollar. Not tiny ones – just the odd one here and there – they are not sore to press on. Anyone get these?

    Thanks so much for any help!

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    • January 21, 2011 at 1:45 pm
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      Hi Gill,
      I’ve read it’s rare too. I don’t know how rare – I’ve heard of a few patients saying they have it. I know just what those nail symptoms are – I had them the first yr of my dx until well established on dmards. The only thing the docs told me is that the treatment is the same as RA – methotrexate. If my own symptoms had not subsided, I would have pursued it more. My only advice for you is to pursue answers from doctors until you are satisfied. Take photos of any signs you see and bring those to your docs.

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  • March 13, 2011 at 12:33 pm
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    I have been diagnosed with Felty’s Syndrome. What I get so frustrated with is the time between the blood tests. I have a hemotologist, rheumatoligist, and a GP. My hemotoligist is starting me on the drug that brings up your white count. Its six weeks between appointments and one doctor doesnt talk to the other. How can I faciliate this and is there one doctor out of the three that I should be seeing and how often?

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  • August 9, 2011 at 11:53 pm
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    I have atrial fibrilation as a “complication” of my RA….on meds for now, but a pacemaker is in my future.

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    • August 10, 2011 at 12:02 am
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      Very interesting we were both just reading that post just now up late working on tomorrow’s blog. Take care of yourself, Laurie.

      Reply
  • September 4, 2011 at 10:09 pm
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    Don’t forget Lung disease. I have Pulmonary Interstitial Fibrosis. Diagnosed with RA 10 years ago, diagnosed with the PIF 5 years ago, only because as a singer, I was having problems with my voice. Rhemy referred me to an allergy specialist. He ruled out allergy, did a spirometry and ordered follow -up in a few months when the spirometry indicated the very low end of normal function. Next visit function was down more so he ordered pulmonary function test. The results came back with the diagnostician’s comment that the results were below average but most likely due to patient being over weight and sedentary. (while overweight, was definitely not sedentary at that stage). Thankfully the allergy dr sent the PFT results back to the rheumy, who called the next day to schedule an appointment to discuss further tests and treatment. The progression of the lung inflammation seems to be stable at the moment, but the damage is done and I am below 50% on lung function. Sadly, now the lungs also complicate the heart with pulmonary hypertension. Is it no wonder that folks are confused by my “arthritis”?

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  • February 9, 2012 at 9:39 pm
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    The “complications” that effect my eyes are my most serious problem. I have something called “chronic recurrent corneal erosion syndrome” which is complicated by chronic dry eye. Both my rheumatologist and my cornea specialist have laid the fault squarely on my RA. It is painful, and sometimes makes it difficult (or impossible) to drive or work. Just using the computer is painful. I’ve been suffering on and off for 6 years with that complication. (Diagnosed with RA 17 years ago.) I’m getting depressed and scared; afraid I won’t be able to keep my job! If it’s not bleeding, broken or bandaged people think your exagerating, but I’ve been pulled over in a parking lot in the middle of nowhere in tears because I just couldn’t drive any further!

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    • February 13, 2012 at 8:42 am
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      I’m so sorry about your eyes, Denise. I hope your specialists can get your RA under control.

      Reply
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