Rheumatoid arthritis is a serious disease of the autoimmune system that primarily affects the joints. However, because it is an autoimmune, systematic disease, rheumatoid arthritis may also affect other areas of the body. Here are some of the areas that may be associated with a positive diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis.
One area that may be affected is the skin. It is not uncommon for rheumatoid arthritis patients to report small nodules that are formed under the skin. Most of the time, these relatively small nodules can be found near a joint area. The skin nodules become most noticeable when a joint is flexed. Another skin condition commonly associated with rheumatoid arthritis is purpura. Purpura refers to purplish patches on the skin that develop because of damage incurred by the blood vessels. Rheumatoid arthritis can cause the blood vessels to become damaged, causing them to rupture and bleed into the skin. This process is known as vasculitis. Another skin problem associated with rheumatoid arthritis are skin ulcers. Skin ulcers appear as a result of vasculitic lesions.
Another area that may be adversely affected because of rheumatoid arthritis is the heart. It is not uncommon that fluid collects around the heart as a result of the inflammation caused by rheumatoid arthritis. Although these symptoms are usually quite mild, it is possible that this problem may develop into something more serious. If inflammation is severe, it may affect the heart muscle. The coronary arteries may swell, causing the heart muscle to work harder. The lungs may also be affected by rheumatoid arthritis. Like the heart muscle, fluid may collect around the lungs. The lung tissue may also become stiff. The inflammation related to rheumatoid arthritis can may it difficult to breath.
The musculoskeletal structures of the body may be severely affected by rheumatoid arthritis. When inflammation strikes the joints, the muscles may become shrunken and weak. This is known as atrophy. The most vulnerable area that may be affected by atrophy is the area of the hands. Atrophy is not directly caused by rheumatoid arthritis. Atrophy is the result of not using certain muscles for an extended period of time. When rheumatoid arthritis strikes, the affected joints and muscles may become the source of discomfort, pain, and swelling. This causes the patient to not use the stricken muscles, and this in turn causes atrophy.
The digestive tract is also affected by rheumatoid arthritis. The most common complication is known as dry mouth, which is related to Sjogren syndrome. Most digestive complications associated with rheumatoid arthritis appear to develop as a result of the medications taken to control the disease. The most common digestive complaints related to the medications include stomach ulcers and stomach inflammation (gastritis).
The patient’s blood may also be affected by rheumatoid arthritis. Many rheumatoid arthritis patients find that they develop anemia. Anemia is a result of a low level of red blood cells, and a low level of hemoglobin in the blood cells. These are responsible for carrying oxygen throughout the blood stream.