How Rheumatoid Arthritis Affects Your Body

Rheumatoid arthritis affects not just the joints, but also many other organs

old man holding painful kneeMost of us know Rheumatoid Arthritis [RA] as a joint problem. But medically, it is an auto-immune disorder that can trigger disorders in other organs either directly or indirectly. Let’s look at how RA affects other parts of the body.


In those with RA, the skin develops patches on the skin that are red or dry and covered by silver scales. The nails also show abnormalities such as crumbling and discolouration. Often, the skin lesions in those with RA reflect their immunological status. Apart from this, there is pain in the fingertips before the redness of inflammation appears. Fingertips may also whiten or show bluish discoloration.


RA may cause weakening andshrinking of muscles surrounding the joints, thereby leading to muscle wasting. It happens due to less or no usage of muscles due to arthritis-related pain and swelling. There is a potential of damage to the tendons and bones leading to deformities, especially in the hands and legs. This makes it a vicious circle, where the inflammation causes restricted mobility and the lack of movement causes further loss of muscle tone and joint flexibility.


RA may result in collection of fluid around the heart and sometimes this can be severe. Inflammation related to RA may even affect the muscles of the heart, blood vessels and heart valves, thus leading to complications.


Anaemia is commonly seen in those with RA. Though the haemoglobin levels are mildly reduced, they cause symptoms such as dizziness, tiredness, paleness of skin, cramps in the calves and increase risk of infections.


If RA becomes severe, it may also affect the lungs and cause fluid to collect around them. This may lead to stiffening of lung tissues or cause them to overgrow, affecting breathing and complicating the situation. X-ray of the chest may also reveal lumps or nodules in the lungs. The symptoms include shortness of breath, painful breathing, and fatigue.

Nervous system

When the joints get affected in RA, they, in turn, entrap associated nerves, damaging them. The damage affects proper functioning of the nervous system that has serious results. However, this is not a common phenomenon.


Patients of RA often suffer from dryness and/or inflammation of the eyes. However, one needs to assess the severity of the condition by finding out which parts of eyes are affected in consultation with an ophthalmologist.


A sign that RA is not under control, and the treatment course needs to be reconsidered, is the when intestinal problems develop. This is caused by the inflammation of the intestinal tract.

Any early sign about the other effects of RA should not be ignored; consult a specialist for a check-up.

What you can do to help yourself

Just because you have RA does not mean that you should never exercise. In fact, low-impact exercises help strengthen the muscles, which reduce weight on the joints. Like in any chronic condition, you will have good days and not so good ones. Make the most of your pain-free days and include different exercise forms in your routine such as yoga and t’ai chi. If you have been recently diagnosed with RA, check with your physician about the dos and don’ts to keep your joints in the best condition. Also, avoid heavy weight-training.

For pain management, pain killers are often prescribed. Be open to exploring complementary forms of treatment such as acupuncture and reiki for pain relief. Join a RA support group to share your experiences of dealing with the condition and also to learn from those of others.

— Team Complete Wellbeing

Dr Ram Chaddha is consultant orthopaedic surgeon at the Lilavati Hospital and Research Centre, Mumbai.


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