Rheumatoid Arthritis suffers know all too well that even though the condition primarily affects the joints, it can also cause systemic symptoms throughout the entire body. These symptoms occur especially in people who have severe disease. An article on Health.com details the problems associated with RA. Here’s a look at the areas of the body that are affected by the disease besides just your joints.
- Eyes. Inflammation of the surface of the eye (scleritis) may result in dry, gritty-feeling eyes or pain in the eyes.
- Lungs. Inflammation of the membrane sac surrounding the lungs may cause pain and difficult breathing. Bumps (nodules) may also develop in lung tissue.
- Heart. Thickening and inflammation can develop in the sac around the heart (pericarditis), the heart muscle (myocarditis), and the heart valves (endocarditis). This can result in chest pain and shortness of breath.
- Blood and blood vessels. Low levels of white blood cells (leukopenia) and red blood cells (anemia) as well as spleen enlargement (an organ involved in making blood and immune cells) may occur. When these problems occur together, it is called Felty’s syndrome. Inflammation can also affect the blood vessels (vasculitis), causing open sores (ulcers) of the skin.
- Nerves and muscles. There may be a loss of strength in muscles next to affected joints. Inflammation may also cause pressure on the nerves (compression). An example is compression of one of the nerves in the wrist, which affects sensation in the thumb, index, and middle fingers; this is called carpal tunnel syndrome.
The website Thirdage.com has a great article about how RA affects your heart. It discusses a Swedish study, published in January’s issue of the Journal of Internal Medicine, which found in just a year after being diagnosed with RA, a patient’s risk of having a heart attack is 60 percent higher. The study followed 7,469 patients diagnosed with RA for over a decade to study the risk of heart disease. Read more about the study’s findings in the article on Thirdage.
Another great resource to find information about RA and it’s affects on the rest of your body is Web MD. The site has a slideshow that helps sufferers understand RA a little better through the use of photos that clearly explain how RA affects the body.