With RA being a systemic type of illness, it can affect more than one part of the body. This is why those with RA can often haves symptoms that aren’t inline with stiffness or swelling. Rheumatoid arthritis symptoms that occur outside the joints are called extra-articular features of rheumatoid arthritis. Sometimes these are very common but only cause minor discomfort and other factors such as swollen lymph nodes (a sign that some inflammation is affecting other parts of the body) are less common.
RA and The Affects of It on Your Blood
There’s a blood disorder called anemia that affects between one-half and two-thirds of each person with RA. This condition is when the red blood cell count drops. Anemia may develop as a result of long term inflammation and how severe it is depends on how active the arthritis is. This type of anemia usually improves though when the arthritis is brought under control.
Another type of anemia is called iron deficiency anemia and can irritate the stomach lining and cause a loss of blood. This type is usually a side effect of taking anti-inflammatory drugs. This will need to be tested to determine whether or not the blood loss is from the stomach by letting the doctor examine your stool for blood or other techniques such as endoscopy or upper gastrointestinal series. If it gets too bad, the medicines causing the bleeding for a time period to let the stomach heal.
There is a condition called vasculitis (another “itis” which means swelling) that is a rare complication of rheumatoid arthritis. This affects those who have high levels of rheumatoid factor in their blood. The blood vessels can become inflamed where there are too many antibodies being produced by the plasma cells in the blood. What usually determines the severity of the vasculitis depends on the size and location of the blood vessels that are being affected. When it involves the blood vessels that lead to the skin, skin ulcers can develop (usually in the lower legs). This can usually be taken care of gently washing several times a day with a mild antiseptic soap and then thoroughly rinsing and drying the skin, then applying some sterile bandages.
When the blood vessels that go to the nerves are affected, sometimes numbness and/or weakness can result and is known as neuropathy.
Eyes and Mouth
Having dry mouth, dry eyes, or even both is called sicca syndrome and develops in about 15 percent of those with RA. This syndrome can cause the tear glands to become inflamed and will dry out your eyes. Where there isn’t enough tears to keep your eyes moist, they will become gritty and feel itchy and your eyelids can become red and irritated as well.
Dry mouth is thought to be caused by the inflammation of the salivary glands. Having excellent oral hygiene is really important because the lack of saliva will promote tooth decay. If either of these are or become too severe for you, there are a couple of medications that are out there to help make it better.
Skin nodules are small bumps that appear beneath the skin and are usually noticed while dressing or bathing. These are called rheumatoid nodules and approximately one-third of those with RA will develop this. These nodules often form close to the joints and often come and go with the patern of your arthritis. These nodules are harmless and rarely occur in any places besides the skin.
Inflammation can cause local pressure that squeezes or pinches nerves which can cause numbness or weakness. This is called nerve compression and is the result of swelling. When the wrist becomes swollen, the amount of pressure increases in the joint and then the nerve becomes compressed. This causes numbness and tingling in the three middle fingers (commonly known as carpal tunnel syndrome). When the inflammation is chronic, the wrist can be moved out of alignment which also causes the nerve to more out of its normal location. You can help decrease the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome by wearing a wrist splint.
Chest and Lungs
Breathing with rheumatoid arthritis symptoms can cause discomfort in a couple of ways. The first way is when the joints between the collar bones (called the clavicles) and chest bone (sternum) develop arthritis. Pain is felt when deep breaths are taken or when the shoulders are moved. This is usually caused in about 30% of those with RA. The treatment of the arthritis will improve this condition.
The heart if rarely affected by RA and whenever it is, no symptoms are experienced.
Having RA puts you at a higher risk of developing osteoporosis (read more about osteoarthritis vs rheumatoid arthritis) than normal. Osteoporosis is when the bones start to thin or when bone mass is decreased. When you lose bone, in any way, you are more susceptible to get fractures more easily. Women with rheumatoid arthritis symptoms are at a higher risk of osteoporosis than men because they started out with less bone mass to begin with.
A diet that is low in vitamin D and calcium will also contribute to osteoporosis.
Check out this video that goes over rheumatoid arthritis symptoms
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