You probably know all about the swelling and pain in your joints that comes and goes when you have rheumatoid arthritis. But don’t neglect unusual symptoms that crop up on other parts of your body. They could be symptoms of complications or side effects of medicine you take.
Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic, autoimmune disease that occurs when the body’s immune system mistakenly attacks its own joints and tissues. RA can get worse with time, and without adequate treatment, this can lead to problems throughout the body. Watch out for these 10 problems, and call your doctor if you spot them. Once you got them, you should start common rheumatoid arthritis medications.
Some RA drugs, such as biologics, affect the immune system, your body’s defense against germs. You may not be able to fight off illnesses as easily as you used to. That’s why you need to be on the lookout for a fever. It could signal something serious, either very active disease or an infection. Infections can get worse quickly if you’re taking medication that keeps your immune system from working, so it’s important to get treatment quickly.
Fever can be a sign of infection. RA medications like biologics and steroids slow down your immune system. While they ease joint pain and swelling, it’s harder for you to fight off bugs like the flu. RA makes you more likely to get an infection just because the disease wears down your immune system. Mild fever is also one sign of an RA flare. That’s when inflammation gets out of control. If it gets too high, your doctor will check for infection.
If you have RA you’re at a higher risk for scarring of the tissues in the lungs. So see your doctor right away if you have a cough that won’t go away or you’re short of breath during normal activities. You may need to start meds for rheumatoid arthritis.
If you have a hard time getting your breath and can’t figure out why, maybe RA is to blame. Some people with the disease, especially men who smoke or used to smoke, are more likely to get serious lung problems. When RA inflammation causes scar tissue to form in your lungs, you might notice chronic cough, shortness of breath, fatigue, and weakness. RA may inflame the tissue that lines your lungs. That can lead to shortness of breath or pain or discomfort when you breathe. See your doctor right away if you have unusual breathing problems or a cough that won’t go away.
Rheumatoid arthritis raises your chances of ulcers, stomach bleeding, and conditions such as colitis and diverticulitis. This may be because of inflammation from RA or because of side effects from medications like nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) or corticosteroids.
You’re also more likely to have constipation or diarrhea, which could be a warning sign that the amount of good and bad bacteria in your intestine is out of balance. You may need rheumatoid arthritis medications.
Your swollen joints can push against nerves, which can make you feel tingling in different parts of your body. Common spots for this to happen include your elbows, ankles, and wrists. Inflammation of blood vessels, called vasculitis, can happen with RA and also cause numbness.
RA sometimes affects the small nerves in your hands or feet. They might feel numb or like you’re being stuck with pins and needles. If these tiny blood vessels in your hands or feet shut down, your fingers or toes may feel cold or numb. They could even change color when it’s cold outside and look white, red, or blue. Rheumatoid vasculitis, which affects blood vessels, can also cause numbness, tingling, burning, or pain in your hands or feet due to damaged nerves. If your hands or feet are so numb that they drop or go limp when you try to raise them, see your doctor right away.
The inflammation that comes with your disease can damage parts of your eyes, including the sclera (the “whites” of your eyes) and the cornea (a thin protective layer).
Eye pain or new eye redness that is getting worse should be evaluated immediately. Talk to your doctor about any vision changes that happen over a matter of days or weeks, too.
Some RA meds can trigger bone loss, which raises your risk of fractures. Your bones may also become weaker if you avoid exercise and physical activity.
A broken bone may be a clue that you’re developing osteoporosis, a disease that causes your bones to get thinner. It can be treated once you’re tested and diagnosed and treated by rheumatoid arthritis drugs.
Some people with RA also get Sjögren’s syndrome, another inflammatory condition. If you have it, you may have trouble chewing and swallowing, or it may feel like something gritty is in your eyes. Women can also have vaginal dryness and pain during sex.
There’s no cure for Sjögren’s syndrome, but medications or lifestyle changes may help you manage your symptoms.
Depression or anxiety sometimes go along with RA. It happens to about one-third of people with arthritis, according to a CDC study. Talk to you doctor if you notice any changes in your mood. He can suggest therapy or medicine to help treat it.
RA is tied to depression, anxiety, and other mood problems. That’s because the disease causes pain, fatigue, and stiffness that make it harder to do the things you enjoy. Depression and anxiety could also come from inflammation. Some people with RA get fibromyalgia. This illness causes muscle pain and often leads to depression and anxiety. Stress makes all of your symptoms worse. If your mood changes seem to take over your life, talk to your doctor. Depression and anxiety can become serious if you don’t treat them.
Some research suggests that RA or the drugs used to treat it may cause hearing problems. If you or your family notice a change in your ability to hear, your doctor may be able to adjust your medications or recommend a hearing aid.
Tinnitus, or ringing in your ears, can be a side effect of treatments like nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs).
People with RA are more likely to die from heart-related problems than those without the disease. Chest pain, especially with activity, should be monitored by a physician. “Our hope is that we can turn back the clock before patients develop these full-blown conditions.”
Overall, about 40% of people with rheumatoid arthritis have symptoms in areas on their body besides joints, like their skin, muscles, bones, eyes, and lungs. If you have mild symptoms that have developed slowly, tell your doctor about them during your next visit. Make an appointment right away if you’ve had any sudden or serious changes in the way you feel or how you respond to treatment.