How RA Affects Your Body

  • RA's Impact Goes Beyond Joints
    RA's Impact Goes Beyond Joints
    You already know that rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a disease that affects your joints, causing pain, inflammation, and loss of function. Unfortunately, its impact doesn't always end there. Here's a look at how the condition can affect several different parts of your anatomy.

  • Your Hands
    Numbness and Tingling in Your Hands
    With RA, you're likely to experience inflammation in the wrist and knuckles of the hand, which makes them appear red and feel hot. Since the disease acts on your body symmetrically, if you have symptoms in one hand, you probably have them in the other. You may also feel numbness or tingling, which is a sign of carpal tunnel syndrome. This is due to swollen tendons placing pressure on nearby nerves.



  • Your Knees
    Damaged Cartilage in Your Knees
    If RA strikes your knees, it can cause inflammation and destroy the cartilage—the tissue that cushions the ends of the bones and keeps them from rubbing together. Some people with RA develop such extensive damage in the knee that they need knee replacement surgery to fix it and improve or preserve their mobility.



  • Your Neck
    Pain and Stiffness in Your Neck
    RA can also attack the joints between the vertebrae in your spine. It's most likely to strike the cervical spine—the vertebrae of the neck—and cause extreme pain and stiffness.



  • Your Heart
    Chest Pain and Irregular Heartbeat
    RA can cause the moist tissue surrounding the heart, known as the pericardium, to become inflamed. This condition is called pericarditis. You may experience a rapid heartbeat, trouble breathing, fever, or chest pain. Working with your doctor to find the best RA treatment for you can help treat pericarditis as well as the pain of RA.



  • Your Lungs
    Difficulty Breathing
    RA may assault the tissue surrounding your lungs, a condition called pleurisy. The pleura is a membrane that consists of two thin layers of tissue: One wraps around your lungs, and the other lines your chest cavity. There's a thin space between these layers that's filled with a small amount of fluid. The fluid helps the two layers slide smoothly past each other as you breathe. RA can cause these layers to become inflamed, which makes them rub together painfully.



  • Your Blood Vessels
    Restricted Blood Flow and Inflamed Blood Vessels
    RA is an autoimmune disorder, which means your immune system fights your body's own tissues and cells. This can include your blood vessels, causing them to become inflamed, a condition called vasculitis. The inflammation may restrict or block blood flow, which can damage your organs. Your symptoms can vary widely depending on which organs are affected.



  • Your Blood Cells
    Fatigue or Low Energy
    RA may put you at risk for developing anemia, a decrease in the number of red blood cells in your body. One of the most common symptoms of anemia is fatigue or a lack of energy. You may also have cold hands and feet, dizziness, shortness of breath, or headaches. Be sure to tell your doctor if you notice any of these problems, because complications of anemia can, with time, lead to heart problems.



How RA Affects Your Body

About The Author

  1. Neck Pain. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=a00231
  2. Arthritis: Rheumatoid Arthritis. American Society for Surgery of the Hand. http://www.assh.org/Public/HandConditions/Pages/ArthritisRheumatoidArthritis.aspx
  3. Arthritis. National Headache Foundation. http://www.headaches.org/education/Headache_Topic_Sheets/Arthritis
  4. What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Anemia? National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/anemia/signs.html
  5. How Is Pericarditis Treated? National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/peri/treatment.html
  6. What Are Pleurisy and Other Pleural Disorders? National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/pleurisy/
  7. What Is Vasculitis? National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/vas/
  8. What Causes Vasculitis? National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/vas/causes.html
  9. Knee Problems/ National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. http://www.niams.nih.gov/Health_Info/Knee_Problems/knee_problems_ff.asp
  10. Rheumatoid Arthritis. National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. http://www.niams.nih.gov/Health_Info/Rheumatic_Disease/default.asp#ra_3
  11. Pericardial Disorders. National Library of Medicine. National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/pericardialdisorders.html
  12. Rheumatoid Arthritis. National Library of Medicine. National Institutes of Health. http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/tutorials/rheumatoidarthritis/id249105.pdf
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Last Review Date: 2019 Jun 15
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