When most people hear the words, "Rheumatoid Arthritis" they think of joint pain. Most do not know the difference between RA and the more common Osteoarthritis. In fact, most people who know someone with RA would describe them as "having a little arthritis" when in fact, RA is so much more than just a little arthritis.
RA is a progressive disease that characterized by morning stiffness, joint pain, debilitating fatigue, fever, and just an overall unwell feeling. These symptoms are just the beginning of the war raging in the person's body. Many complications develop with RA.
About one fifth of the people with RA develop rheumatoid nodules. These nodules develop over areas of pressure and can develop on the heart and in the lungs. Usually they cause no problems but in the lungs, they can lead to serious complications including infections and bleeding.
The inflammation associated with RA can cause pleurisy, or inflammation of the lining of the lungs and pericarditis, an inflammation of the membrane surrounding the heart. Chronic inflammation of this lining can cause the membrane to become stiff and interfere with the normal function of the heart. Another rare complication of RA is inflammation of the heart muscle itself.
Vasculitis, an inflammation of blood vessels, is another complication caused by RA. The blood vessels affected can be those of the heart or they can be more superficial blood vessels leading to skin ulcers that don't heal. While vasculitis is an uncommon complication, it can be very serious.
Most people who have active RA develop complications related to blood cells. One of these complications is anemia. Anemia causes fatigue, shortness of breath, dizziness, insomnia, fast heart beat and muscle cramps. In anemia, the body is deprived of oxygen because the red blood cells are the cells that carry oxygen to all of the organs and muscle. It is also common for to develop high levels of platelets putting the patient at risk for blood clots but most of the immunosuppressive drugs can lead to low levels of platelets leading to a risk of bleeding.
Felty's syndrome is an uncommon complication causing an enlarged spleen and a low white blood cell count. People with RA who develop Felty's syndrome may increase the risk of developing lymphoma.
People with RA are are at risk for developing eye complications including inflammation of the thin membrane that covers the white of the eye. Another condition, Sjogren's syndrome, is common in people with RA and in Sjogren's the immune system attacks the tear glands causing the eyes to feel dry and gritty and can lead to infection, corneal abrasions and scaring. Sjogren's also affects the saliva glands causing chronic dry mouth. This results in increased dental problems.
Some people with RA also develop Raynaud's syndrome. Raynaud's causes blood vessel spasms in the hands, feet and more rarely in the nose and even the nipples. The blood vessels spasm in response to cold and stress. The affected area turns blue and becomes very cold. It can also blanch white and become numb. As the area begins to re-warm it turns red and can be very painful.
Rheumatoid Arthritis is an autoimmune disease that affects every aspect of the patients lives. This disease can be isolating and debilitating resulting in depression and anxiety for the person suffering from the disease but there is hope. Many groups have formed to provide support and many blogs exist that provide good and timely information.
RA Warrior - www.rawarrior.com Kelly just won an award for her informative blog.