A chronic inflammatory disease, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) can affect more than just your joints. Typically, this disease causes your joints to swell and cause an array of symptoms, including joint pain and stiffness. However, the effects of arthritis can beyond your joints.
According to Dr Samir Rajadhyaksha, Consultant Rheumatologist at Global Hospital Parel, Mumbai, “Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is a chronic autoimmune disease primarily affecting small and large joints. The cardinal symptoms are joint pain, swelling and stiffness. Apart from affecting the joints, other organs also can be affected.”
Scroll down to know all about the complications of rheumatoid arthritis and what you can do to fix them.
Organs affected by rheumatoid arthritis
As per the expert, rheumatoid arthritis can affect the lungs, causing interstitial lung disease which presents as chronic cough and breathlessness on exertion. Studies have also shown that intestinal lung disease is one of the primary complications of RA.
If you often have dry eyes, there is a possibility that it is due to the presence of rheumatoid arthritis. Dr Rajadhyaksha says, “It can affect the eyes causing dry eyes and eye inflammation.” It is best to discuss these symptoms with a doctor and get proper medication.
Did you know that rheumatoid arthritis can lead to skin problems? The doctor explains that a skin rash or ulcers on the arms and legs are some of the common symptoms that occur in people with rheumatoid arthritis. In face, RA can even affect your nervous system.
Patients with rheumatoid arthritis have a 2-fold higher risk for developing cardiovascular disease which is also the most common cause of mortality in patients with RA. Long standing untreated disease and inflammation plays an important role in cardiovascular disease, says Dr Rajadhyaksha.
Treatment of rheumatoid arthritis is of utmost importance
While getting treatment for RA is vital, screening and treatment of co-existing diabetes, hypertension and elevated cholesterol is of paramount importance. Dr Rajadhyaksha explained that the treatment for RA comprises of painkillers, steroids and immunosuppressive medications.
“Monitoring for side effects of these medications on organs is mandatory. Unsupervised use of painkillers (known as NSAIDs) can cause kidney problems and stomach ulcers. Steroids should be used judiciously at the lowest possible dose for the shortest period of time as long term use can cause osteoporosis, diabetes, cataracts. Immunosuppressants suppress immunity and increases susceptibility to infections like pneumonias and urinary tract infections,” he highlighted.
“On medications like hydroxychloroquine periodic eye examination is advised AND with methotrexate blood count and liver tests need to checked regularly under supervision of a rheumatologist. Because of the chronic nature of the disease, screening for depression and it’s treatment is also of importance,” added Dr Rajadhyaksha.
What is the best way to manage rheumatoid arthritis? As per the expert, disease awareness, followed by early diagnosis and treatment with medications known as DMARDs (Disease Modifying Anti-Rheumatic Drugs) as soon as the diagnosis is made, is the best way to go about it.
Lifestyle changes to reduce the risk of complications of arthritis
Some of the methods you can opt for to reduce the risk include changing your lifestyle factors. Here are a few things you can do:
- Do not smoke
- Keep your weight in check
- Make sure you exercise at least 5 days a week
- Eat a healthy and nutritious diet