Complications of RA may be scary, but they can be prevented.
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
Muscle wasting, or loss of muscle mass
Osteopenia, or loss of bone
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.
Saakshi Khattri, MD, is a rheumatologist and assistant professor at the Department of Rheumatology, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.
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One needs to understand that rheumatoid arthritis,
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even though it affects primarily the joints,
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one can have extra-articular manifestations of this disease,
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and when I say extra-articular, this means outside the joint.
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Anemia, or low hemoglobin, is a common thing that we encounter
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in patients that have rheumatoid arthritis.
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That's because with all this inflammation that's in their blood,
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the body sort of decreases the production of hemoglobin.
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The second complication that we can see
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with rheumatoid arthritis is this generalized sense
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of tiredness, of fatigue, and this has to do with the inflammation
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that exists within their bloodstream.
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The third complication is muscle wasting.
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It's when there is again chronic inflammation
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or they've been on corticosteroids or glucocorticoids,
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or steroids, for long periods of time.
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Another complication is loss of bone,
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something called osteopenia, and that can happen
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from the disease process itself, or it can happen
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from use of oral steroids for long periods of time.
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The most important thing to avoid the complications
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from rheumatoid arthritis, whether it's erosions
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at the level of the joint, or whether there are
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other extra-articular manifestations is
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to follow through with their treatment regimen.
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What the patient can control is hopefully
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when the symptoms first start is to go to a provider
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so that he or she is diagnosed early,
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and then start in on treatment early.
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I do ask my patients if they smoke, because smoking
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is associated with decreased response to treatment.
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There's enough research that's shown that eating
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a Mediterranean diet, which is rich in fruits, vegetables,
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fish, and olive oil, decreases inflammation,
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so I sort of encourage my patients to switch to that, if they can.
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So with regards to monitoring for complications,
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obviously following up with their rheumatologist
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on a regular basis is important.
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Anything that seems out of the ordinary or what is not
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their baseline, they should see their provider
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sooner rather than later, rather than just sitting over it,
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because it could be a complication that's seen
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with rheumatoid arthritis which they might not be aware of.
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How Rheumatoid Arthritis Affects More Than Joints. Arthritis Foundation. (Accessed on January 27, 2020 at https://www.arthritis.org/diseases/more-about/how-rheumatoid-arthritis-affects-more-than-joints)
General principles of management of rheumatoid arthritis in adults. UpToDate. (Accessed on January 27, 2020 at https://www.uptodate.com/contents/general-principles-of-management-of-rheumatoid-arthritis-in-adults)Rheumatoid Arthritis Treatment (Beyond the Basics). UpToDate. (Accessed on January 27, 2020 at https://www.uptodate.com/contents/rheumatoid-arthritis-treatment-beyond-the-basics)