RA Complications: 5 Problems to Watch For

While rheumatoid arthritis itself isn't a fatal disease, it can cause complications that may very well affect lifespan as well as quality of life. Here are five possible medical issues that rheumatoid arthritis patients may experience

  • Lung problems. Rheumatoid arthritis can cause a constellation of lung problems collectively known as rheumatoid lung disease. These can include fluid in the chest, scarring, nodules, and high blood pressure in the lungs. In terms of scarring, it can be severe enough to cause breathing difficulties and the need for a lung transplant. A new study says that 10 percent of people with rheumatoid arthritis will develop serious lung complications during their lives. Besides shortness of breath, symptoms include chest pain, fever, and cough.
  • Anemia. Up to 60 percent of rheumatoid arthritis sufferers also have anemia, or low red blood cells, making it the most common complication after joint pain. Anemia may be caused by the inflammation of arthritis and often goes hand in hand with a more severe case of arthritis. Patients may be treated for anemia with drugs normally used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, or they may be prescribed medication to stimulate red-blood-cell production.
  • Heart disease. Rheumatoid arthritis may lead to pericarditis, which is swelling and inflammation of the sac surrounding the heart. It also may cause inflammation of the heart muscle. Either of these conditions can cause heart failure.
  • Eye issues. The eyes can be affected by rheumatoid arthritis in a number of ways. Scleritis is the inflammation of the white of the eye. It causes intense pain and can make the eye take on a deep violet color. Episcleritis is inflammation of the membrane covering the white of the eye. This can also cause redness. The inflammation from rheumatoid arthritis also can cause glaucoma, which can result in blindness; cataracts, which cause a clouding of the eye; and dry eyes.
  • Periodontal problems. The chronic inflammation caused by rheumatoid arthritis can cause complications inside the mouth. In fact, studies show that people with arthritis are more than twice as likely as others to have periodontal disease. Red, swollen, and bleeding gums are a hallmark of periodontal issues. The sooner people with rheumatoid arthritis notice these symptoms, the earlier they should get to the dentist.


New York Times, www.nytimes.com

National Institutes of Health, www.nlm.nih.gov

National Anemia Action Council, www.anemia.org

Arthritis Foundation, www.arthritistoday.org