Health Tips from a Mother of Three

3 Rarely-Discussed Complications Of Rheumatoid Arthritis

Since rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is regarded as a type of inflammatory arthritis that primarily affects the small joints, many other symptoms can be overlooked or thought to be a comorbid condition. The quicker new symptoms are identified and linked with RA, the better your treatment outcome.

Voice Changes

You may seem to have laryngitis frequently or notice other changes in your voice, such as deepening or hoarseness. When simple explanations, such as a viral infection, can be ruled out you may want to consider that RA is a contributing factor. The inflammation associated with RA is systemic and although primarily the synovial joints are affected, the immune system is indiscriminate. Some people develop inflammation of their larynx due to RA, which contributes to recurrent or long-term changes in their voice. Much like the other symptoms of RA, the best defense is attempts at controlling the disease process. Your doctor may recommend steroid injections if you need "spot treatment" of anti-inflammatory medications.

Lung Problems

Various pulmonary problems occur at a higher rate if you have RA. One such complication is the development of rheumatoid nodules inside your lung. Generally, rheumatoid nodules develop on or near joints, such as the elbow. These benign growths are typically associated with a more severe and active disease. Unfortunately, these same growths can develop inside the lungs and are usually asymptomatic, but may grow large enough to impact your breathing.

Other concerns are pneumonia and interstitial lung disease. The increased risk of pneumonia is partly due to medications used for RA. High doses of steroids and disease-modifying anti-rheumatics work by suppressing parts of the immune system responsible for the autoimmune response. In turn, this can make you more susceptible to infections, one of which is pneumonia.

Heart Disease

The comorbidity between RA and heart disease is multifaceted. One of the major reasons is systemic inflammation, which has consequences on the heart and blood vessels. The increased inflammation can lead to blood vessel damage and hardening of the arteries. Both types of cardiovascular changes increase the risk of a heart attack.

To a lesser degree, changes in lifestyle associated with RA can drive the risk of heart disease even higher. Many people who are on lengthy treatment regimens with steroids will gain weight and this weight can be difficult to lose even after they have stopped taking the steroids. Furthermore, pain and joint damage can lead to a sedentary lifestyle. Both being sedentary and systemic inflammation can cause muscle atrophy, which decreases your metabolic rate and makes it easier to gain weight.

Much like other autoimmune diseases, RA is a complex disease with varying complications. When you have RA, make sure you discuss any new concerns with your arthritis specialist promptly. The quicker new symptoms are identified and treated, the more likely they will have less impact on your overall health and quality of life.