Thursday, 24 December 2015

Rheumatoid Arthritis: How does it affect Your Body?

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA), unlike other common types of arthritis, is an autoimmune disease wherein the cells in the body are attacked by its own immune system thereby resulting to inflammation which is mostly seen around the joints. Although it can also have a systemic approach and can affect any organ in the body including the heart and lungs. Since it’s the body is being attacked by its own immune system, the body process goes haywire and results to joint pain, muscle inflammation, heart problems, and other complications.

Here is a list of known complications and effects on the body associated with rheumatoid arthritis:
  • Skin Problems – Rheumatoid nodules area tissue lumps that are often seen in people suffering from RA. It develops under the skin and is mainly found on the fingers, elbows, and forearms but can also develop in vital organs like the heart and lungs. In severe cases of RA, these nodules appear suddenly indicating the active phase of inflammation. Ulcers may also appear on the skin when the inflammation occurs on the blood vessels.
  • Eye Problems – Since RA is an autoimmune disease, the antibodies may also affect the lacrimal glands in the eyes which are responsible for tear production. The eyes can become dry and irritated, which when left untreated can cause conjunctival scarring. Other complications include inflammation of the membrane lining the sclera (white of the eye). The sclera may also become inflamed and can result to loss of vision of not treated promptly.
  • Cardiovascular Problems – Pericarditis, the inflammation of the pericardium (the membrane the lines the heart) is a common cardiac complication in patients suffering from RA. Pericarditis usually develops during episodes of active inflammation or flare-ups. Since it often happens over a long period of time, the pericardium can become stiff and affect the contractility of the heart. This then results to decreased blood flow to other parts of the body. Another noted complication is called pericardial effusion, which is the collection of fluid in the space between the pericardium and the heart which can result to shortness of breath and palpitations. Inflammation of the heart itself can also happen. It is called myocarditis which can manifest as chest pain, shortness of breath, and irregular heartbeats.
    RA also increases a person’s risk for developing stroke due to the inflammation of the blood vessels. Vasculitis (inflammation of the blood vessels) commonly affects the small vessels in the skin. However, it can also affect the vessels in other vital organs like kidneys and lungs.
  • Hematologic Problems – RA also results to the decreased production of red blood cells which can significantly reduce of haemoglobin in the blood, thus causing Anemia. This condition can result to constant fatigue, tachycardia (increased heart rate), dizziness, pallor (pale color of the skin), and shortness of breath. Active disease activity can also increase blood platelet in the blood which increases the risk of emboli formation. On the other hand, immunosuppression therapy (treatment for RA) can cause reduced platelet count which can increase the risk of bleeding.
  • Lung Problems – As mentioned earlier, rheumatoid nodules and vasculitis can also affect the lungs which can result to hinder proper functioning. Another complication on the lungs can be pleural effusion, which is the collection of fluid in the pleural membrane that surrounds the lungs. It can cause difficulty of breathing and can even lead to atelectasis (lung collapse) when not treated promptly. Pulmonary hypertension can also happen in patients with RA when the blood vessels that carries blood from the heart gets inflamed thereby narrowing the space of blood flow to the lungs.
  • Immune System Problems – Unlike common types of arthritis that only involves inflammation of the joints, RA affects the immune system of the body by stimulating and autoimmune response. This response activates the body’s immune system and attacks the body’s own cells and tissues. This then leads to inflammation, a common immune response of the body.
    Since the treatment for RA is immune suppression, which halts the immune response of the body, the body is can no longer fight off any infection that affects the body. This can result to serious complications when necessary prevention is not implemented.
  • Emotional Problems – Since RA is a chronic condition, patients often have limited activities; others cannot even participate in the sports that they like due to the severity of their condition. These limitations, together with inflammatory flare-ups, treatment, and constant pain, people often suffer from emotional problems like depression and anxiety. 
Rheumatoid arthritis can really be a frustrating disease especially when it results to serious complications like those involving the vital organs of the body. That is why regular check-up with the consulting health care provider is a must for patients suffering from RA. A simple dryness of the eye cannot go unnoticed because it can cause loss of vision. Likewise, palpitations should also be taken seriously because there might be a more serious cause of the problem. Unlike with common types of arthritis, patients with RA must be more vigilant in their health condition. A strong support system is also a necessity to be able to cope up with the stress brought by this disease process.

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