Like many inflammatory autoimmune diseases, rheumatoid arthritis can cause problems throughout the body. Learn about some other conditions it may be linked to.

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic autoimmune condition that can cause inflammation throughout the body. With autoimmune diseases, the body attacks its own cells. There is usually a primary symptom or sign, but there can be other areas in the body affected, too.

RA is known for the joint pain and swelling it can cause, but there are several other conditions, referred to as comorbidities, that can develop in people with RA.

This article explores some of these conditions and some of the problems that RA treatments might cause.

RA is an inflammatory autoimmune disease. Inflammation causes problems throughout the body. In chronic conditions like RA, this inflammation can come and go repeatedly, affecting different areas of the body at different times.

Joints are the primary target for the inflammation and pain that comes with RA. Inflammatory cells that circulate through the body can cause damage to other tissues, too.

In addition to other health problems, RA can indirectly cause other issues related to RA treatments than the disease itself.

RA is an autoimmune disease, meaning the body launches a misdirected immune response.

Instead of finding and attacking invading cells or substances, the immune system recognizes the body’s cells and tissues as foreign. When this happens, inflammatory responses meant to protect the body can destroy healthy tissue.

Some autoimmune disorders affect very specific areas of the body, but RA is a systemic disease. This means it can affect the entire body in some way.

Chronic inflammation is the main source of problems that develop alongside RA. Joints, heart tissues, and bones are some main targets of inflammation-driven damage.

As a result of this systemic inflammation and chronic stress on the body, several related conditions known as comorbidities can develop. Some common comorbidities in people with RA include:

It’s also possible to develop more than one comorbidity.

Doctors typically treat RA with therapies and medications that try to reduce the body’s immune response. By weakening the immune system, your body is less likely to mount a strong attack on its own tissues. However, there are drawbacks to these treatments.

The main job of the immune system is to protect you from things like germs and abnormal cells. Although suppressing the immune system can help reduce the effects of autoimmune diseases like RA, it can also increase your chances of developing certain infections.

Disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) are the main treatment doctors prescribe to control inflammation in people with RA. There are many types of DMARDs, and each works a bit differently.

Examples of DMARDs used to treat RA include:

Different classes of DMARDs can have different benefits and side effects. Your doctor may prescribe a combination of medications to manage your symptoms.

Although the side effects vary from medication to medication and person to person, some of the most common problems you may develop as a result of these treatments include:

Be sure to talk with your doctor about any side effects you develop before stopping or changing your medications or dosages.

Many DMARDs require gradual stopping or starting to prevent more problems. There’s also the possibility of taking pre-medications before your DMARD dose to reduce your chances of developing these side effects.

Other health conditions can develop alongside RA due to the body-wide inflammation and tissue damage the disease causes. Treatments for RA can also cause side effects.

You and your doctor can discuss how to manage your symptoms and what treatments you can tolerate. RA is treated based on symptom severity. Your doctor may need to adjust your treatment based on how well your symptoms are relieved and what other issues or side effects you may develop.