Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a condition where the body’s immune system attacks itself and inflames the protective membrane inside the joints. This can result in symptoms that range from mild to severe.
Symptoms are mostly related to joint problems. However, you may also experience flare-ups where your symptoms are worse. This may include rashes on the body due to inflammation. These rashes are known as rheumatoid vasculitis (RV). RV is a rare complication experienced in only one percent of people with RA. In most cases, there are treatments available for rheumatoid arthritis-related rashes.
RA symptoms can vary according to the severity of the disease. RV is a less common symptom of RA. It occurs when your blood vessels become inflamed. This can lead to other symptoms that range from a red, irritated rash to an ulcer on the skin due to lack of blood flow. RV often occurs on the legs.
Other symptoms that can occur with RV include:
- appetite loss
- weight loss
- malaise, or lack of energy
Another rash-like effect of rheumatoid arthritis is palmar erythema. This causes redness in the hands. The condition typically:
- affects both hands
- isn’t painful
- doesn’t itch
- may cause increased warmth in the hands
Interstitial granulomatous dermatitis is another rash that can occur with rheumatoid arthritis. Doctors may also call this condition rheumatoid papules. Symptoms associated with the condition include red plaques or bumps that closely resemble eczema. The rash is itchy and often painful. However, interstitial granulomatous dermatitis is very rare in people with rheumatoid arthritis.
People with RA are prone to episodes known as flares. A flare indicates that there is increased disease activity in a person’s body. A person may have more symptoms associated with the condition, including fever, joint swelling, and fatigue. During a flare-up, a rheumatoid arthritis rash is more likely to occur.
When vasculitis causes a rash, this is most likely due to inflammation of small arteries and veins. This is due to high levels of rheumatoid factor in the blood.
RA can cause complications beyond a rash. Vasculitis can affect blood flow in arteries and veins. The results of severe episodes of vasculitis can be:
- numbness and tingling in the nerves, including loss of sensation in the hands and feet
- affected blood flow to the extremities that can cause gangrene in the fingers or toes
- systemic vasculitis that affects blood flow to the brain or heart that can result in heart attack or stroke
The occurrence of RV is rare, and the complications above are even rarer. However, it’s possible that a rash could be a precursor to something more severe. See your doctor if you experience any signs or symptoms of RV.
The treatment for a rheumatoid arthritis-related rash depends on its cause and severity. Sometimes a doctor may prescribe an antibiotic ointment. However, medication to treat the underlying arthritis flare-up may help to reduce symptoms. For example, corticosteroids may suppress the immune system and reduce the incidence of a flare-up.
Treatments for interstitial granulomatous dermatitis include topical steroids and antibiotics. Doctors may also prescribe Enbrel (etanercept), a medication that’s also used to treat psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis.
Palmar edema doesn’t cause any other severe symptoms, so doctors don’t usually prescribe treatments. However, sometimes the rash is the result of a change in medications. You should tell your doctor if you have symptoms after changing medications. But you shouldn’t stop taking your medications unless instructed by your doctor.
There are no permanent solutions that can completely prevent rheumatoid arthritis rashes from occurring. Doctors may try a combination of medications to help you manage your condition. These treatments may reduce inflammation and minimize joint damage.
It’s important that people with RA take measures to live as healthy a lifestyle as possible. Examples of healthy lifestyle practices that may benefit a person with rheumatoid arthritis include:
- Getting plenty of rest, which can help to reduce fatigue symptoms and minimize joint inflammation.
- Exercising whenever possible, which can help to enhance joint mobility and build strong, flexible muscles.
- Taking measures to cope with stress, such as meditation, reading, taking a walk, or doing other activities to promote relaxation.
- Eating a healthy diet full of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. This can help you maintain a healthy weight, which is important in supporting healthy joints.