We always associate rheumatoid arthritis (RA) with stiff muscles and painful joints. After all, RA is an autoimmune disease in which your immune system attacks your joints and bones, causing pain, swelling and inflammation. But did you know rheumatoid arthritis can affect your other body organs too? If not detected or treated on time, RA can lead to several severe health complications that may affect other parts and organs of your body. 

Read to know various other health complications that rheumatoid arthritis can bring along. 

1. Diabetes

Yes, you read it right. Research show that rheumatoid arthritis increases your risk for diabetes by more than 50%, and diabetes increases your risk for RA. While the exact link between both the diseases is still unknown, it is believed that since both RA and diabetes are autoimmune diseases, one disease may make it more likely for you to get the other disease as well. Also, medications – steroids and statins – that are used to treat RA are also known to raise your blood sugar levels, making you more susceptible to diabetes. 

Read more about the Diabetes Diet: Myths and Facts

2. Cardiovascular Diseases

Rheumatoid arthritis (and its flares) also leads to pericarditis or the inflammation of the thin membrane that surrounds your heart, making the membrane either thicker or thinner. This then interferes with your heart’s ability to function the way it should – increasing your risk for cardiovascular diseases and stroke. Not just that, the rheumatoid nodules can also form on your heart and affect the way it functions. 

Pulmonary hypertension, a type of high blood pressure that affects arteries in the heart and lungs, is also a complication of RA. That’s why, people suffering from RA are advised to get their heart check-up done at regular intervals. 

3. Eye Complications

RA can also put you at an increased risk of several eye complications. 

  • It may cause the inflammation of episclera – the membrane that covers the white part of your eye – making it red and painful. 
  • RA also causes scleritis – a more serious eye infection that can lead to complete vision loss. 
  • It can also cause your immune system to attack your tear glands, making your eyes dry and gritty. If left untreated, eye dryness can lead to eye infection and scarring of the conjunctiva.

4. Lung Diseases

Rheumatoid nodules can form in your lungs too, leading to collapsed lungs, infections, blood in cough, pleural effusion and more. In many patients, RA is known to cause interstitial lung diseases, which causes scarring of the lung tissue, affecting its normal functioning. 

5. Skin Infection

RA can lead to the formation of lumps of tissue under the skin, sometimes as large as the size of the walnut and at others as small as pea. Known as rheumatoid nodules, these lumps can appear anywhere on your skin, especially on your forearms, elbows, heels, or fingers. These nodules are a clear sign that your rheumatoid arthritis is getting worse.  

RA also causes vasculitis – the inflammation of the blood vessels, which make their spot on the skin and look like ulcers. Vasculitis, when it affects the larger arteries, can cause either complete nerve damage or damage to your internal organs. 

6. Osteoporosis

People with RA are at higher risk of getting osteoporosis – a disease that makes your bones thin and fragile, increasing their susceptibility to break. It also causes back pain, stooped posture and a curved upper back. This happens because rheumatoid arthritis and steroids that are used to treat the disease lead to excessive bone loss, making your bones brittle and fragile. 

7. Blood Diseases

RA leads to anemia in patients. It happens because RA, and medicines used to treat it, don’t let your body make healthy red blood cells. That’s why, people with RA often complaint of fatigue, shortness of breath, headaches, leg cramps, insomnia, and weakness. 

 RA also causes Thrombocytosis – high levels of platelets in your blood. This happens due to acute RA inflammation. Excessive platelets in your blood may affect the way it flows in your blood vessels, leading to stroke and heart attack. 

Ways to Protect Yourself from RA Complications

The only way to protect yourself from rheumatoid arthritis and the complications that it brings along is by staying vigilant about your changing health condition. If you observe any pain, swelling, or stiffness in your joints, talk to your health provider immediately. It could be an early sign of RA. People with a family history of RA should get themselves tested at least once a year. Remember, accurate diagnosis and early treatment are the keys to fighting RA. The more you delay or ignore the symptoms, the worse the disease gets, which in turn leads to severe health outcomes. So for best results, start early, preferably as soon as you notice the first symptoms.

In addition to medicinal support, you must incorporate healthy lifestyle practices to manage your RA everyday: 

  • Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet that helps fight inflammation 
  • Try to maintain at least a minimum exercise level 
  • Practice strength training exercises to keep your muscles strong
  • Maintain a healthy weight 
  • Maintain work-life balance to reduce stress 
  • Follow a streamlined approach to your daily chores 
  • Quit drinking and smoking 

At EPIC Health, we can help you detect, treat as well as prevent rheumatoid arthritis. Our expert orthopedists follow a holistic and well-rounded approach to treat the disease and prevent associated health complications that RA may bring along. Working in close association with our certified exercise physiologists and nutritional counselors, our expert orthopedists offer a comprehensive treatment plan to alleviate your pain, increase your joint and muscle flexibility, and improve your quality of life. 

Schedule an appointment with our expert orthopedists today. We can help you live Happy, Healthy and Better!