When you think about rheumatoid arthritis (RA), you probably think about its most common symptoms. These common symptoms include joint swelling and stiffness, bumps or nodules under your skin, and tiredness.
But some people with RA have other symptoms too. Some people with rheumatoid arthritis also experience a skin rash.
Rheumatoid patients can develop skin disorders. According to the University of Iowa Hospitals & Clinics (UIHC), this happens because rheumatoid conditions like RA are autoimmune diseases.
UIHC notes that the same kind of immune system problems that cause joint inflammation, swelling, and pain can also affect your skin. When this happens, RA patients may develop lesions or rashes on the skin, reflecting immunological dysfunctions.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), doctors often look for rashes to help them diagnose rheumatoid arthritis.
Different types of arthritis can have similar symptoms. So looking at your skin for a rash during a physical exam can help your physician confirm a diagnosis.
Besides a rash, your doctor will look at your joints, check your mobility, and determine whether you have any inflammation in your lungs.
A condition called “rheumatoid vasculitis” is a possible complication of RA.
If the vasculitis involves larger arteries and veins, it can lead to a rash that’s red and painful. This rash may often appear on your legs.
Fortunately, less than five percent of RA patients develop vasculitis. Fewer still experience the condition in their larger arteries.
Rheumatoid vasculitis is often not severe as long as it affects only the skin. But it can become quite serious if it affects your internal organs or nerves.
Your doctor may prescribe antibiotic cream if you have vasculitis that affects your skin and causes a rash. While more serious vasculitis doesn’t occur very often, you will need stronger immune system treatments if it affects your internal organs.
A rash called “livedo reticularis” is not often associated with RA in medical literature. But some physicians and patient groups believe this rash can occur as a sign of RA.
The University Malaya Medical Center in Malaysia identifies RA as a type of “secondary livedo reticularis.”
Although the Mayo Clinic does not list RA as a possible cause of the rash, it does say that livedo reticularis may be associated with “serious underlying disorders.” The clinic suggests that lupus and other syndromes may be among these disorders.
Livedo reticularis may appear as a discoloration on your skin. It may be purple in color and appear in a lace or net pattern. It appears most often on your legs.
On its own, this rash is not serious. It causes no additional symptoms. However, if it is associated with another condition like RA, you may need treatment for the underlying cause of the rash.
Rashes may appear in around 100 diseases that lead to arthritis, according to UIHC.
RA patients can develop different types of rashes on their skin due to immune system disorders. These rashes can vary in severity and require different types of treatment.
Treatment for rheumatic skin conditions must be personalized for each individual patient based on their condition and disease state. Therefore, any rash associated with RA requires a doctor’s supervision and treatment guidance.