Surprising Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a type of arthritis that is caused by a misdirected attack by the immune system on the joints. Like other types of arthritis, RA is characterized by swelling and inflammation in the body’s joints, making them feel painful and stiff.
Beyond the typical arthritis symptoms, RA can cause unusual and unexpected symptoms, like weight loss, fever, difficulty breathing, and dry eyes. If you are facing a new diagnosis of RA, make sure you know what to expect, and report any new symptoms to your doctor.
RA is an inflammatory autoimmune disease, which means that it involves your immune system. When you have an infection, your immune system attacks the invader and you experience symptoms of inflammation as a result.
With RA, your immune system is attacking tissue in your joints, and so you may experience some of the general symptoms of inflammation throughout your body. This can feel like the flu, with fatigue, a low-grade fever, and loss of appetite.
When you have RA, you may experience flu-like symptoms, sometimes including a loss of appetite. This decrease in appetite may result in muscle loss and general weight loss.
You may even become malnourished if you have RA, which means you need to be careful about what you eat, and how much. Work with your doctor to be sure you get the right nutrition and enough calories every day.
In about 20 to 30 percent of cases, patients with RA develop bumps under the skin. These are called nodules and develop most often on the arms, elbows, feet, and knees. Nodules are caused by inflammation in small blood vessels. They are typically the size of a pea, and in rare cases can become infected. Be sure to tell your doctor if you develop these bumps, as they may be an indicator that the disease is becoming more active.
Scleritis is an inflammation of the eyes and is characterized by dryness, pain, redness, blurred vision, and sensitivity to light. Some people with RA will experience scleritis, and if left untreated it can become serious and cause lasting damage.
If you have eye symptoms, be sure to contact your doctor. Scleritis can be treated with anti-inflammatory drugs, eye drops, and corticosteroids. Even if you do not have symptoms, be sure you have an eye check-up regularly.
The lining of your lungs may also become inflamed if you have RA. An inflammation of the lining of the lungs is called pleurisy and does occur with the disease. The most noticeable symptom of pleurisy is the feeling of pain when you try to take a deep breath.
Over time, this inflammation can lead to scarring in the lungs and shortness of breath, but it is treatable with anti-inflammatory medications. It is also possible that your RA medications are causing lung symptoms. Tell your doctor if you have any trouble breathing.
Numbness and Tingling
RA may cause nerve problems, which most often marked by numbness, weakness, or a tingling feeling in your arms and legs. This condition is called neuropathy. You may also develop carpal tunnel syndrome, which is the result of compression of the nerve running between your forearm and your hand. It is caused by inflamed tissue compressing the nerve. Carpal tunnel can affect how you grip objects and your ability to use devices or type on the computer.
Dry Eyes and Mouth
Dryness in the mouth and eyes can occur with RA and are symptoms of a condition called Sjögren’s syndrome. Your immune system, in this case, attacks your glands that produce saliva and tears, causing dryness.
Dry eyes can be treated with drops or surgery on the tear ducts, while medications can be helpful in increasing saliva production. If left untreated, the condition can cause infection and permanent scarring in the eyes. For your mouth, good dental hygiene is necessary to prevent gum disease and tooth decay that can result from low saliva levels.
Although not common, a condition called vasculitis can develop if you have had RA for a long period of time. It is an inflammation of blood vessels that supply blood to your skin. Symptoms include small, red dots on the skin, or in severe cases, ulcers under the fingernails and on the legs. Vasculitis is very serious if not treated, but can usually be controlled with RA medications.
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● More Than Just Joints: How Rheumatoid Arthritis Affects the Rest of Your Body. (2013). Arthritis Foundation. Retrieved November 22, 2013, from http://www.arthritistoday.org/about-arthritis/types-of-arthritis/rheumatoid-arthritis/what-to-expect/effects-on-body-and-health/rhemuatoid-arthritis-affects-body.php
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