Peripheral neuropathy can develop as a complication of rheumatoid arthritis (RA). You may find similar treatments for both, but your doctor is best equipped to determine what medications may work for you.

RA is a chronic autoimmune disease that causes inflammation in your joints, and about 40% of people with RA develop a loss of sensation and motor function in their hands, feet, and other parts of the body.

Known as peripheral neuropathy, this condition — whether it’s a complication of RA or not — can be quite painful and affect your life.

This article explores the relationship between RA and peripheral neuropathy, how they are related, and what you can do to relieve symptoms.

RA is a chronic form of inflammation caused by a dysfunction of your immune system. Your body attacks the bones and tissues in your joints, resulting in pain, stiffness, and swelling in joints throughout your body.

Over time, this condition can lead to joint damage and dysfunction, as well as other complications.

On the other hand, neuropathy is damage to the nerves that can happen for various reasons.

Peripheral neuropathy is a common form that develops in people with RA. Any form of nerve damage that occurs outside of the central nervous system and spinal cord is a form of peripheral neuropathy.

It’s still a peripheral form of nerve damage, but people with neuropathy and RA might receive a diagnosis of rheumatoid neuropathy — one of the most common complications of RA.

Both of these conditions can cause discomfort or pain, but the exact nature and location of these pains can be a little different between RA and the neuropathy it can cause.

Symptoms of RA usually include:

  • pain or aching in one or more joints
  • stiffness in one or more joints
  • joint tenderness or swelling
  • similar symptoms of pain or swelling on both sides of your body
  • weight loss
  • fever
  • fatigue (low energy)
  • weakness

Symptoms of peripheral or rheumatoid neuropathy usually include things such as:

Does rheumatoid arthritis cause numbness and tingling?

RA usually causes swelling, inflammation, pain, and/or stiffness in your joints. Swelling can lead to a loss of sensation, but this is why RA and neuropathic disorders are so closely related.

Numbness and tingling aren’t usually included in the list of direct symptoms of RA, but it’s among the common complications of this disease.

Peripheral neuropathy is a common complication of RA.

Researchers estimate that up to 85% of people with RA experience some type of neuropathy, and about half of people with RA will develop some sort of nerve damage or pain.

Besides RA, other diseases can lead to the development of peripheral neuropathy.

Some chronic conditions that can lead to peripheral neuropathy include:

  • diabetes
  • vascular diseases
  • carpal tunnel syndrome
  • circulatory problems
  • hormonal imbalances
  • kidney disease
  • liver disease
  • nutritional deficiencies
  • alcohol misuse
  • exposure to toxins
  • certain medications such as chemotherapy
  • infections

Autoimmune diseases are also a trigger for peripheral neuropathy, especially conditions such as:

RA isn’t the only form of arthritis that can cause nerve damage.

Other forms of arthritis show an association with neuropathy, mainly because of the pressure swelling and inflammation put on your nerves. Over time, this pressure can lead to chronic nerve damage and neuropathic pain.

Treatment for peripheral neuropathy with RA should start with managing your underlying condition.

This usually means taking medications such as disease modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs) and anti-inflammatories to reduce the effect and progression of RA.

Healthcare professionals may add other medications to treat symptoms you have that are specific to peripheral neuropathy. These include medications also taken to treat conditions such as depression or epilepsy.

Examples of medications prescribed specifically for peripheral neuropathy include:

You will likely want to consult your doctor and healthcare team about any of your symptoms, to determine whether medications are the best treatment options for you.

Healthcare professionals usually treat RA with a class of medications called DMARDs or biological response modifiers (biologicals).

The goal of these medications is usually to slow the progress of the disease and prevent permanent joint damage. Anti-inflammatory medications, pain medications, and steroids can be helpful, as well as physical therapy and other rehabilitative treatments.

Peripheral neuropathy is a common complication that develops alongside RA. Joint swelling and inflammation can damage nerve fibers, adding new layers to your joint pain.

Some treatments are the same for RA and peripheral neuropathy, but you might have additional treatments if you have RA and experience new nerve pain or damage.