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These Less Common RA Symptoms Affect More Than Your Joints and Hands

7 minute read


Rheumatoid arthritis is the most common form of joint pain in the United States. Known for causing severe pain, swelling, tenderness, and stiffness around your joints, rheumatoid arthritis can take a real toll on your health and quality of life.

Many people do not realize that RA involves the immune system, and because of that, there are a number of symptoms that are not commonly recognized as stemming from RA.

Because there is no cure for RA, the only way to minimize pain and improve quality of life is through early and accurate detection of symptoms. In this way, you can stay ahead of the pain by developing the most successful treatment.

RA and Your Heart

RA can affect more than your joints. It can impact your nervous system and blood vessels, which also means that it can affect several other systems in your body.

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In fact, a number of your organs can be compromised by RA.

♦ Heart

♦ Eyes

♦ Mouth

♦ Lungs

♦ Bones

The inflammation associated with RA can spread to your heart and can damage delicate blood vessels and the heart lining. Damaged blood vessels are at increased risk for plaque buildup and atherosclerosis.

Once this happens, your risk for heart attack and stroke significantly increases. People with RA have a much higher risk of these serious cardiovascular problems than those without.

The scary part of atherosclerosis is that it doesn’t have obvious symptoms. In fact, many do not realize they even have the condition until they experience a heart attack or stroke.

If you have RA, you need to discuss your risk of cardiovascular disease with your doctor so you can regularly monitor your heart health. With anti-inflammatory medications, diet modifications, and weight management, you can protect your heart from any RA-related inflammation.

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In addition to impacting your heart, rheumatoid arthritis affects the health of your blood vessels. Vasculitis, or the inflammation of your blood vessels, is a common condition in individuals with RA.

This impacts blood transfer to and from the heart as well as the health of your skin. Inflamed blood vessels appear as rashes and start to develop after you have had RA for a long time.

RA and Your Face

Rheumatoid arthritis can impact both your eyes and your mouth by causing them both to get very dry. As an immune-related disorder, it affects the glands that produce tears and saliva and in this way causes damage to both your eyes and your mouth.

Having a dry mouth increases your risk of oral infections, as saliva helps to eradicate pathogenic substances. This could result in higher risk for gum disease as well as tooth decay and other dental problems.

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When tear production is inhibited, your eyes get very red and dry, which can lead to the following eye conditions:

Scleritis: Inflammation of the white part of your eye

Uveitis: Inflammation between your retina and the white of your eye

Both conditions are uncomfortable and painful, and without proper treatment can lead to blurred vision and sensitivity to light. It is important to remember that while you can treat the symptoms of these eye conditions, it is more important to treat your RA, as it is the underlying cause to your problems.

RA and Your Lungs

The inflammation triggered by rheumatoid arthritis can reach your lungs and cause scarring to the delicate lung tissue. One out of every ten people with RA will develop ILD (interstitial lung disease), which can also affect your heart and can be life-threatening.

| Related: The Arthritis Diet: Eating Your Way to Inflammation Relief |

Inflammation in your lungs can make it difficult to breathe and contributes to the development of bronchitis, pleurisy, and nodule growths in your lungs.

If you notice difficulty breathing during physical activity, and you suffer from rheumatoid arthritis, then you need to speak with a doctor and have your lungs checked. Some lung conditions can be effectively treated with medications, but others like ILD are more serious and will require a lung transplant. The sooner the condition is identified, the better.

RA and the Rest of Your Body

Chronic inflammation, like that triggered from rheumatoid arthritis, causes your bones to become brittle. Any bone density loss or thinning increases your risk of osteoporosis and risk of fractures and breaks.

Typically with RA, bone thinning occurs around affected joints where the inflammation is most concentrated.

Neuropathy is also common among individuals with RA. Vasculitis (inflamed blood vessels) impacts your nerves and sensory functions.

As nerves get compressed, you may feel numbness or tingling sensations in your limbs. You are also more likely to develop carpal tunnel syndrome and notice decreased grip strength.

It is advised to get all numbness checked out sooner rather than later to avoid more serious sensory complications.

Sometimes the flu is not really the flu at all. Rheumatoid arthritis can contribute to an overall ill and fatigued feeling because of its impact on your immune system. As the inflammatory actions attack your tissues and organs, your body will feel weaker, fatigued, and you may feel like you have the flu.

You may also develop a fever and a loss of appetite which contributes to weight loss, which can impact your health if you are not careful.

The Bottom Line

Rheumatoid arthritis goes beyond joint pain and muscle aches. The inflammation triggered by the condition can spread throughout your body, impacting the health of every organ it comes across. Often the secondary conditions notify the individual of their RA, but by then it can be too late.

Being aware of the widespread impact RA can have helps you to look out for symptoms in other areas of your body, so you can prevent more serious health problems. With inflammation at the root of all the trouble, your best bet is to follow an anti-inflammatory lifestyle. Control inflammation and maintain control of your life.  

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