Complications of Rheumatoid Arthritis

Complications of Rheumatoid Arthritis

Health conditions such as heart disease can go hand-in-hand with RA. Learn to lower your risk and improve your overall health.

Cartilage and joint damage aren't the only effects of rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Unfortunately, RA can also impact other parts of your body increasing your risk for some health conditions. Your best approach to minimizing and preventing complications? Get early treatment for RA, work closely with your doctor to manage medication side effects, and practice other healthy lifestyle habits.

Heart Disease
RA raises the risk of early heart disease, which may be due to chronic inflammation in the body. An out-of-control inflammatory process can damage blood vessels and heart tissue, and has been linked to both heart attack and stroke. Eat a heart-healthy diet, exercise when you can, and talk with your doctor about other steps to protect your heart and blood vessels.

Dry Eyes, Inflammation and Other Problems
RA can affect eye health and has been linked to an increased risk of dry eye, inflammation, cataracts, and glaucoma. If you have RA and experience redness, discomfort, unusual tearing, blurred vision, or itchy, dry eyes, contact your rheumatologist and make an appointment with an eye doctor.

Both RA and corticosteroids (a drug sometimes used to treat RA) raise the risk of osteoporosis. If you take or have taken corticosteroids, talk with your doctor about getting regular bone-density scans, and make sure you're doing everything you can to keep your bones strong and healthy, including weight-bearing exercise, if possible. Talk to your doctor about preventive steps and treatments for osteoporosis.

Lung Disease
People with RA have a higher risk of lung problems, including infections, scarring, and inflammation of lung tissue, which can cause shortness of breath over time. Keeping inflammation in the body to a minimum can help protect your lungs.

RA inflammation can interfere with the production of red blood cells, causing a "low red blood cell count"—aka, anemia. Some RA medications can also reduce your red blood cell count. Red blood cells carry oxygen throughout your body, so a lack of them can cause fatigue. Talk to your rheumatologist about your risk for anemia. By reducing inflammation, RA treatment usually helps improve anemia, as well.

Medically reviewed in January 2019.

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