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  • Valerie Smith, APRN

The Impact on Organs When You Have Rheumatoid Arthritis



Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a complex disease. No two patients experience the exact same disease progression, and treatment plans vary from person to person.


While RA manifests itself differently in every individual, most all patients live with one common symptom - joint complications.


RA almost always involves joint pain, stiffness, weakness, tenderness, redness, and swelling. These arthritis-like symptoms have created a misconception that RA is a joint disease, but it is so much more than that.


RA is an autoimmune disease that creates widespread inflammation impacting more than just the joints. In fact, it’s a systemic disease that can even lead to organ damage.


We don’t tell you this fact to scare you. Rather, we want our patients to be informed and educated about the long-term health concerns that can come as a result of RA.


When you are aware of the worst-case scenarios with RA, you know what areas of the body particularly need a watchful eye. Furthermore, you can be on the lookout for signs and symptoms that may indicate you need to seek medical care.


Let’s discuss five different organs affected by the inflammatory process brought on by RA.


LUNGS: When you have an overactive immune system, it can attack any part of the body, including the lungs. According to the Arthritis Foundation, “The risk of developing lung disease is eight times higher in people with RA than in the general population.”


Lung tissues do not like prolonged inflammation. Patients can develop various lung diseases, such as pulmonary fibrosis, bronchiectasis, pleural effusion, or interstitial lung disease. Patients can also form rheumatoid nodules.


While each diagnosis comes with distinct complications, patients might deal with breathing difficulties, scar tissue build-up, or bacterial infections.


HEART: A study published in the American Heart Journal states, “Patients with RA have an increased risk of developing heart disease that is not fully explained by traditional cardiovascular risk factors.”


As explained by the Arthritis Foundation: “Inflammatory substances called cytokines fuel joint destruction in RA and blood vessel damage in cardiovascular disease (CVD). Inflammation causes plaque build-up in the arteries, which slowly narrows blood vessels and blocks blood flow, and is the main cause of heart attack and stroke.”

KIDNEYS: The Arthritis Foundation says, “Some people with RA have a one in four chance of developing kidney disease compared with a one in five chance for people who don’t have it.”


The kidneys contain tiny blood vessels, and like any other organ, they need blood flow to function properly. The inflammation that comes with RA affects blood vessels, though. In turn, your kidneys could take a hit.


LIVER: A National Library of Medicine study reads, “When liver damage is present in rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patients, it is sometimes difficult to determine whether it is a hepatic manifestation of RA, associated primary liver disease or hepatotoxic liver disease which developed during the treatment of RA.”


There is not a strong connection between liver dysfunction and RA. What is known is that certain medications can contribute to liver disease. If you are taking a medication with potential side effects that could impact the liver, routine blood work is critical.


SKIN: While not an internal organ, the skin is yet another organ that RA can attack. Patients can develop rheumatoid nodules, neutrophilic dermatosis, or rheumatoid vasculitis.


With these conditions, patients may deal with lumps, sores, rashes, or infections. In rare cases, patients with rheumatoid vasculitis may incur life-threatening complications, such as heart attacks or strokes. Once again, it goes back to poor blood vessel function due to inflammation.


Treatment Plans Help To Prevent Organ Complications


Just to reiterate, our goal is to not create fear or make our patients afraid.


We want our patients to understand the importance of managing the effects and potential complications associated with RA.


Seeking early intervention and following a treatment plan are two of the best preventative measures to control disease progression, reduce inflammation, and decrease disease activity.


Here at Paducah Rheumatology, we formulate treatment plans one-by-one. We know no two patients are exactly alike, and therefore, treatment plans should be based on the specific symptoms and disease development of every patient.


Your treatment plan will be designed for YOU!


We are accepting new patients with a physician’s referral. Give us a call at 270-408-6100 with any questions.


Our healthcare team looks forward to providing personalized care catered to your individual needs and concerns.


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