Rheumatoid arthritis is a systemic autoimmune disease that is characterized by chronic inflammation of the joints. Here is some information on diseases that are related to rheumatoid arthritis.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammatory autoimmune disorder wherein the immune cells and antibodies that normally defend the body against pathogens or disease-causing agents attack the membrane that lines the joints. Such an immune response occurs due to the body’s inability to differentiate between the body’s own tissues and the foreign invaders. When the joints get inflamed due to the attack by antibodies, it gives rise to symptoms such as joint pain, stiffness, fatigue, malaise and reduced mobility.
Since rheumatoid arthritis is a serious disease, one must watch out for the early symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. Though there can be flare-ups, the symptoms can be managed with medical treatment. If drug therapy is administered in the initial stages, the disease can go into remission and the patient would definitely have a better chance of living a normal life.
Another step towards improving the quality of life of patients suffering from this inflammatory disorder is to identify the other diseases that are related to rheumatoid arthritis. Research is being conducted to identify such diseases and find ways to lower the incidence of such diseases. In this article, we will find out if rheumatoid arthritis can make one susceptible to other diseases.
Diseases Linked to Rheumatoid Arthritis
Though rheumatoid arthritis typically affects the joints, it can also affect other parts of the body such as the skin, heart, lungs, eyes, nerves and blood vessels. Since rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease, the treatment involves the use of oral or biologic disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs.
At times, the use of such immunosuppressive drugs can give rise to certain side effects. It is also believed that ailments or infections associated with rheumatoid arthritis could be attributed to the prolonged use of certain drugs. Here are some of the diseases that are associated with rheumatoid arthritis.
Rheumatoid Lung Disease
Rheumatoid arthritis is a systemic disease which can have an adverse effect on the lung function. People suffering from this inflammatory disorder are at an increased risk of developing the rheumatoid lung disease. The rheumatoid lung disease is characterized by a group of lung problems. Pleural effusion is one such lung problem where excess fluid accumulates in the pleural space.
The accumulation of fluid can impair the patient’s breathing pattern. Patients must also seek medical assistance if they experience shortness of breath or dizzy spells on exertion. These are signs of pulmonary hypertension, which is a condition that is caused due to elevated blood pressure in the pulmonary artery, pulmonary vein or capillaries. Pulmonary fibrosis, which refers to the scarring of interstitial tissues that are located around the air sacs, is another condition that could develop in people with rheumatoid arthritis.
One could also develop nodules in lungs. Pleural fluid analysis, CT scan, chest X-ray, lung biopsy and pulmonary function tests are some of the diagnostic tests that doctors may order to confirm the diagnosis of the rheumatoid lung disease. It is believed that the rheumatoid lung disease could be caused due to the use of certain drugs that may be prescribed for treating rheumatoid arthritis.
Sjogren’s syndrome is a systemic autoimmune disease that is characterized by the dryness of eyes and mouth. This condition arises when the specialized structures of the immune system attack the tissues that are present in the lacrimal and salivary glands. If this condition develops by itself, it is referred to as primary Sjogren’s syndrome. One is diagnosed with secondary Sjogren’s syndrome if this disease develops along with another autoimmune disease.
It is not uncommon for people with rheumatoid arthritis to develop Sjogren’s syndrome. This condition can lead to severe dryness of the eyes, thereby making one prone to keratitis. Under such circumstances, the patients must keep their eyes lubricated with artificial tears. One can also have punctal plugs fitted so as to retain moisture in the eyes.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Carpal tunnel syndrome is another condition that may develop in people suffering from rheumatoid arthritis. Carpal tunnel is a small space in the wrist through which the median nerve passes. It is the median nerve that provides the sensations in the wrist and fingers. It controls certain muscles thereby facilitating the movement of the thumb and fingers.
Carpal tunnel syndrome occurs due to the entrapment of the median nerve. It may occur when the synovium, which is the membrane surrounding the joint, gets inflamed due to rheumatoid arthritis. Under such circumstances, one is most likely to experience pain, numbness or tingling sensation in the affected hand.
The term vasculitis refers to the inflammation of blood vessels. People, who have a high concentration of rheumatoid factor in their blood are more likely to develop vasculitis. Inflammation of blood vessels could cause the blood vessels to weaken. In severe cases, the blood vessels may become constricted, thereby affecting the blood flow.
Vasculitis doesn’t develop in the early stages of rheumatoid arthritis. Though a small percentage of patients diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis develop inflamed blood vessels, patients who have developed rheumatoid nodules or have swelling in many joints are more likely to develop rheumatoid vasculitis. Vasculitis could also give rise to lesions or purpura (purple discoloration of the skin).
Osteoporosis is a medical condition that is characterized by reduction in the bone density. Women are more susceptible to developing this condition. Calcium deficiency is one of the most common contributory factors for osteoporosis. Heavy smokers, alcoholics or people, who live a sedentary lifestyle are also at an increased risk of developing this condition.
A prolonged use of certain drugs that are used for treating conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, asthma and seizures can also make one susceptible. For instance, a prolonged use of glucocorticoids that are prescribed for alleviating the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis could also cause reduction in bone density.
Rheumatoid arthritis can also increase the risk of a heart attack and stroke. Since rheumatoid arthritis is a systemic inflammatory disease, it can cause inflammation of the membrane that surrounds the heart. This condition is medically referred to as Pericarditis. At times, fluid may collect between the heart and the membrane that surrounds the heart. This can adversely affect the ability of the heart to carry out its functions. Sometimes, nodules can also develop on the heart.
Anemia is a condition that is characterized by deficiency of red blood cells. It is one of the most common conditions that may develop in people who have been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. The secretion of proteins by the inflamed tissues may have an adverse effect on the body’s ability to produce red blood cells. The drugs that are used for treating rheumatoid arthritis can also trigger bleeding from the digestive tract, which in turn may cause anemia.
Cancer is a grave disease which is characterized by the development of malignant growth owing to abnormal and uncontrolled cell division. Studies have been conducted on cancer diseases linked to rheumatoid arthritis. Some of these studies suggest that rheumatoid arthritis could make one prone to certain types of cancer. A few studies suggest that people with severe rheumatoid arthritis have a slightly higher risk of developing lung cancer, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma or leukemia.
The term ‘lymphoma’ refers to the cancer of the lymphatic system. Hodgkin’s lymphoma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma are both types of cancer that start in the lymphocytes. Lymphocytes are a type of white blood cells that defend the body against disease-causing agents. Leukemia is the cancer of the blood-forming tissues. Such an abnormal and uncontrolled cell division in lymphocytes or blood-forming tissues could be triggered by the inflammation caused by rheumatoid arthritis.
Smoking is a contributory factor when it comes to lung cancer. While inflammation or scarring in lungs that may be caused by rheumatoid arthritis could make one susceptible to lung cancer, the risk is even greater in case of heavy smokers who have been diagnosed with this inflammatory disease. Some studies have linked the elevated cancer risk in people with rheumatoid arthritis to the prolonged use of drugs such as azathioprine, methotrexate or TNF inhibitors such as adalimumab, etanercept and infliximab.
For instance, certain studies have linked the use of TNF inhibitors to lymphoma and a type of skin cancer called Melanoma. A study conducted in 2008 suggests that chronic inflammation due to rheumatoid arthritis can cause hyperglobulinemia, which in turn may make one susceptible to myeloma. However, there are other studies that have ruled out this therapy-related cancer risk.
In fact, certain studies suggest that people suffering from rheumatoid arthritis are less likely to develop prostate cancer, breast cancer and colorectal cancer. Since studies have conflicting conclusions, there’s a need for extensive research on the connection between the use of rheumatoid arthritis medication and cancer.
This was a brief overview on the diseases related to rheumatoid arthritis. People, who have tested positive for the rheumatoid factor need to be very careful about the lifestyle choices they make. Though this inflammatory disorder cannot be cured, it can be managed with the help of drug therapy. If you comply with the advice or guidelines given by your doctor, you can also reduce the risk of the diseases that are associated with rheumatoid arthritis.