When anyone mentions arthritis, what’s the first thing that comes to mind?
If you answered joint pain, you are not alone. Even those who suffer from the condition themselves are quick to assume that their symptoms will be limited to just stiff and aching joints. Fact is however, arthritis symptoms go well beyond that—especially for rheumatoid arthritis (RA) sufferers.
To shed more light on the condition, here are some symptoms caused by RA that you should be aware of–
1. Increased risk of cardiovascular disease
RA has been linked to an increased risk for cardiovascular disease, which includes heart attack and stroke. This correlation puts a lot of focus on the serious nature of RA and it would be best if you speak to a medical professional about how you can minimize your exposure to it.
Offhand, you can start by watching your diet and reducing intake of refined sugars and starches that spike your blood glucose levels and insulin. If at all possible, try to add some activity into your daily routine as well to help burn excess glucose in the bloodstream.
2. Development of nodules
RA sufferers often develop small, firm lumps under the skin called nodules. This is especially common among RA patients with a more advanced form of the disease. The nodules develop near joints that are inflamed and can be small enough to go unnoticed, or large enough to be disconcerting.
Because it’s painless and not life threatening, it doesn’t really require treatment. Neither does it make your RA worse. However, it can be bothersome especially if the nodules are large in size. If this is the case, there are medications that can help reduce its size or in some instances, you can have it surgically removed.
3. Shortness of breath
RA patients with a history of smoking are more likely to develop RA-related lung issues. Occasionally, RA sufferers even experience lung problems even before joint pain and inflammation start.
Shortness of breath is often caused by scarring in the lungs; this is due to long-term inflammation and is often accompanied by chronic dry cough, fatigue, and loss of appetite. Or in some instances, if the tissue surrounding the lungs becomes inflamed and leads to pleural inflammation.
4. Dry eyes or loss of vision
RA is so complex that it can affect areas of your body that you wouldn’t even think of—such as your eyes. The most common eye-related symptom would be dryness, which leave your eyes prone to infection. Severe drying of the eyes have also been known to damage your cornea.
One of the less tangible symptoms of RA is chronic fatigue—a persistent and systemic type of exhaustion that affects your entire body instead of just a single body part.
For RA sufferers, this is typically experienced as intense tiredness, not too different from the feeling you get when you’re about to come down with the flu. While fatigue may be directly related to your RA, it could also be a side effect of your medications or a result of anemia, or depression (also common among chronic pain sufferers)—so be sure to speak to a healthcare professional if you feel like you’re experiencing unusual levels of exhaustion.
6. Poor kidney function
Studies suggest that RA patients may also face higher risk of kidney disease. The severe inflammation experienced by sufferers, use of corticosteroids, high blood pressure and cholesterol levels, all contribute to RA sufferers having poor kidney function.
Speak to your doctor about it if you’re worried. Kidney disease can be detected easily. In addition, maintaining a low salt diet and reducing NSAIDS—a common anti-inflammatory medication—can help.
7. Higher risk of carpal tunnel syndrome and other neuropathies
Carpal tunnel syndrome is actually a common complication of RA. Because RA patients often experience swelling of joints and tendons, it can compress the median nerve and cause problems with your carpal tunnel.
It typically begins as a tingling or itching sensation in the middle finger and thumb, accompanied by a sensation of swelling even if there is no visible swelling on the hands. If not addressed, the pain and symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome can be severe and debilitating over time.
While it is one of the more common kinds of arthritis, RA remains one of the more complex and misunderstood forms of the disease. It’s important to learn about these lesser-known symptoms associated with the condition so you can address them early and better manage your RA.