Complications of Rheumatoid Arthritis + How to Avoid Them

Complications of RA may be scary, but they can be prevented.

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Even though rheumatoid arthritis (RA) primarily affects the joints, patients can experience symptoms and complications in other parts of the body, too. This is because inflammation can affect the whole body, regardless of where it starts.

Rheumatoid arthritis, and the medications that treat RA, can affect the body in many different ways, but some complications include:

  • Anemia, which is a lack of healthy red blood cells

  • Fatigue

  • Muscle wasting, or loss of muscle mass

  • Osteopenia, or loss of bone

  • Eye inflammation

  • Joint erosion (Learn more about joint erosion here.)

  • And an increased risk for heart, lung, kidney, or liver diseases

How to Avoid Rheumatoid Arthritis Complications

The complications of RA may be scary, but the good news is that they can be prevented. Here is what Saakshi Khattri, MD, a rheumatologist and assistant professor at the Department of Rheumatology, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, suggests:

  • Follow your prescribed treatment plan. “The most important thing to avoid the complications from rheumatoid arthritis, whether it’s erosions at the level of the joint or there are other extra-articular manifestations, is to follow through with their treatment regimen,” says Dr. Khattri.

  • Quit smoking. “Smoking is associated with decreased response to treatment,” says Dr. Khattri.

  • Eat like people from the Mediterranian. “Eating a Mediterranean diet, which is rich in fruits, vegetables, fish, and olive oil, decreases inflammation,” says Dr. Khattri. Learn more about the Mediterranean diet here.

Along with following up with your rheumatologist regularly, it’s important to pay attention to and report any symptoms that are out of the ordinary. “It could be a complication that’s seen with rheumatoid arthritis that [the patient] might not be aware of,” says Dr. Khattri.

In short, early diagnosis and early treatment can help stave off challenging RA complications. If you suspect you have RA but have not received a diagnosis, talk to a doctor immediately to improve your treatment outcomes and quality of life.