Symptoms and Complications of Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)

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—Bone Density
—Swan Neck Deformity


Abstract painting of mist in the catskills by Janet PaulmennAlthough rheumatoid arthritis is often thought of as a disease that affects only the joints, it is actually a systemic disease, which means that it can affect nearly any part of the body.

Common symptoms include fatigue, weakness, muscle pain, reduced appetitie as well as heart, kidney, lung, and vascular problems.

Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis. The disease usually begins gradually with fatigue, morning stiffness (lasting more than one hour), widespread muscle aches, loss of appetite, and weakness. Eventually, joint pain appears. When the joint is not used for a while, it can become warm, tender, stiff, and swollen. Joint pain is often felt on both sides of the body, and may effect the wrist, knees, elbows, fingers, toes, ankle or neck. Medline Plus.

High prevalence of widespread pain (WP) in women with early rheumatoid arthritis (RA). A significant group of women with early RA experience WP with a high DAS28 and increased pain intensity level. PubMed, Scand J Rheumatol, 2018 Jul 5:1-8.

Are foot and ankle characteristics associated with falls in people with rheumatoid arthritis (RA)? A prospective study. Foot and ankle characteristics are not associated with falls in people with RA and enquiries about prior falls and psychotropic medications may assist in identifying patients with RA who are at high risk of future falls. PubMed, Arthritis Care Res (Hoboken), 10/21/2016.

Cardiac Involvement

Heart Disease and Rheumatoid Arthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis almost doubles the risk of having a heart attack within the first 10 years of getting an RA diagnosis. WebMD.

Comparison of Receptor Activator of Nuclear Factor Kappa B Ligand (RANKL) expression, inflammatory markers and cardiovascular risk in patients with acute coronary syndrome (ACS) with and without rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Our results indicate that exRANKL, inflammatory markers and mortality risk are amplified in ACS patients with RA compared to ACS patients without RA. PubMed, Rheumatol Int, 07/11/2019.

Siblings of patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) are at increased risk of acute coronary syndrome (ACS). Siblings of patients with RA are at increased risk of ACS, suggesting shared susceptibility between RA and ACS. PubMed, Ann Rheum Dis, 02/20/2019.

Diastolic dysfunction (DD) in rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patients with low disease activity. The prevalence of DD as expressed by E/A ratio in RA patients with continued low disease activity was not different from that of controls. PubMed, Clin Rheumatol, 12/12/2018.

Elevated levels of plasma symmetric dimethylarginine and increased arginase activity as potential indicators of cardiovascular comorbidity in rheumatoid arthritis (RA). This dysregulated L-arginine metabolism may function as a potential indicator of cardiovascular disease risk in patients with RA. PubMed, Arthritis Res Ther, 2018 Jun 8;20(1):123.

Novel gene variants associated with cardiovascular disease (CVD) in systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA). The IL19 risk allele was associated with stroke/MI in SLE and RA, but not in the general population, indicating that shared immune pathways may be involved in the CVD pathogenesis in inflammatory rheumatic diseases. PubMed, Ann Rheum Dis, 03/07/2018. (Also see Symptoms and Complications of Lupus)

Subclinical impairment of myocardial and endothelial functionality in very early psoriatic (PsA) and rheumatoid arthritis patients: Association with vitamin D and inflammation. Disease activity was the main predictor of myocardial strain impairment and myocardial function was altered and associated with carotid intima-media thickness. Atherosclerosis, 03/06/2018. (Also see Psoriasis and Psoriatic Arthritis)

Cardiac complications in rheumatoid arthritis (RA), systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) and systemic sclerosis (SSc). Since an increased risk of cardiovascular complications applies to many rheumatic diseases, the European League Against Rheumatism (EULAR) has developed a number of recommendations related to the prevention and therapy of cardiovascular events. PubMed, Przegl Lek, 2017;74(4):179-82. (Also see Symptoms and Complications of Lupus and Complications with Systemic Scleroderma (SSc) Heart Involvement)

Association between leptin and IL-6 concentrations with cardiovascular risk (CVR) in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. There is a positive association between CVR and serum leptin concentrations and it is also significantly associated with traditional and non–traditional risk factors. PubMed, Clin Rheumatol, 11/03/2017.

Coronary Artery Calcification (CAC) Is Related to Inflammation in Rheumatoid Arthritis: A Long-Term Follow–Up Study. CAC is related to inflammation in patients with RA. PubMed, Biomed Res Int, 2016;2016:1261582.

Impact of disease activity and treatment of comorbidities on the risk of myocardial infarction (MI) in rheumatoid arthritis. C–reactive protein (CRP) was associated with risk of MI and the results underline the importance of tight disease control taking not only global disease activity, but also CRP as an individual marker into account. Bio Med Central, Arthritis Research & Therapy, 08/05/2016. (Also see DMARDs)

Clinical profile and outcome of patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and abnormally high aortic stiffness (AoSI). Increased AoSI is common, can be predicted by an ordinary clinical assessment and is a strong predictor of adverse clinical outcome at mid–term follow–up in patients with RA. Sage Journals, European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, 05/10/2016.

Cardiovascular (CV) risk in rheumatoid arthritis (RA): assessment, management and next steps. Tight control of disease activity, management of traditional risk factors and lifestyle modification represent, amongst others, the most important steps in improving CV disease outcomes in RA patients. Sage Journals, Therapeutic Advances in Musculoskeletal Disease, 05/10/2016.

Arterial stiffness (AS) is associated with left ventricular (LV) dysfunction in patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). The aim of the study was to evaluate the impact of AS on LV functions in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. Springer Link, 01/07/2016.

Eye Involvement

Can rheumatoid arthritis affect the eyes? Eye conditions associated with rheumatoid arthritis may include dry eyes, uveitis, scleritis, glaucoma and cataracts. Mayo Clinic.


Factors of importance for reducing fatigue in persons with rheumatoid arthritis: a qualitative interview study. The participants in this study expressed that physical activity was important in handling fatigue, but also that this insight could only come from personal experience. PubMed, BMJ Open, 2019 May 29;9(5):e028719.

Explanatory factors and predictors of fatigue in persons with rheumatoid arthritis: A longitudinal study. Pain threshold and depressive mood were the most important factors for fatigue in persons with rheumatoid arthritis. PubMed, J Rehabil Med, 2016 Apr 28;48(5):469-76.


Bone Density

Opportunistic screening for osteoporosis using thoraco-abdomino-pelvic CT-scan assessing the vertebral density in rheumatoid arthritis patients. CT offers a combined opportunistic screening for osteoporosis by assessing both vertebral fractures and bone density on routine CT-scans. PubMed, Osteoporos Int, 2019 Jun;30(6):1215-1222. (Also see Osteoporosis)

Serum serotonin levels and bone in rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patients. Our data reinforce a role, despite weak, for circulating serotonin in regulating bone mass in RA patients, with some differences in terms of gender and anatomical sites. PubMed, Rheumatol Int, 10/09/2017.

Trends and Determinants of Osteoporosis (OP) Treatment and Screening in Patients with Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) Compared to Osteoarthritis (OA). OP care in RA patients was not better than OA patients, and the relative risk of application of this care has been decreasing in RA and OA patients. PubMed, Arthritis Care Res (Hoboken), 08/03/2017. (Also see Osteoporosis)

Swan Neck Deformity

Drawing of Swan Neck Deformity. Netter Images.

Computer-Based Radiographic Quantification of Joint Space Narrowing (JSN) Progression Using Sequential Hand Radiographs: Validation Study in Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) Patients from Multiple Institutions. The proposed computer–based method provides quantitative measurement of JSN progression using sequential hand radiographs and may be a useful tool in follow–up assessment of joint damage in RA patients. PubMed, J Digit Imaging, 2017 Oct;30(5):648-656.


Neuropathy Causes And Treatments. Autoimmune diseases such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis also increase one's chance of developing a neuropathy. Medical News Today.

Inflammation is associated with pro-nociceptive brain connections in rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patients with concomitant fibromyalgia (FM). Here we provide the first neurobiological evidence that comorbid FM in RA may be linked to peripheral inflammation through pro-nociceptive patterns of brain connectivity. PubMed, Arthritis Rheumatol, 08/05/2019. (Also see Fibromyalgia)

Association between serum vitamin D levels and neuropathic pain (NP) in rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patients: A cross–sectional study. Although further research is needed to clarify the association between serum vitamin D levels and NP, our study raises awareness of the need to screen for vitamin D deficiency in RA patients with NP. PubMed, Int J Rheum Dis, 08/31/2017. (Also see Vitamin D Deficiency)

Psychological Factors

Depression and anxiety in systemic lupus erythematosus: The crosstalk between immunological, clinical, and psychosocial factors. Despite also suffering from the pain and disability that accompanies chronic autoimmune disease, the rheumatoid arthritis patients had less anxiety and better relationship scores. PubMed, Medicine (Baltimore). 2018 Jul;97(28):e11376. (Also see Depression)

Discrepancy between subjective and objective measures of cognitive impairment in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. The findings emphasize the gap between subjective and objective measures of cognitive impairment and the importance of considering psychological factors within the context of cognitive complaints in clinical settings. PubMed, Rheumatol Int, 09/04/2017.

Immune responses to stress in rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and psoriasis. Patients with RA have a different immune response to stress than patients with psoriasis or healthy controls. More needs to be learned about the complex interaction between stress, immune parameters and chronic inflammation. PubMed, Rheumatology (Oxford). (Also see Psoriasis, and Stress)

Pulmonary (Lung) Involvement

Predicting outcomes in rheumatoid arthritis related interstitial lung disease (RAILD). The combination of two visual computed tomography–based staging systems identified 23% of an RAILD cohort with an IPF–like progressive fibrotic phenotype. PubMed, Eur Respir J, 11/28/2018.

Clinicopathological features of lung cancer (LC) in patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Lower likelihood for receiving surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy and targeted therapy was reported for LC patients with RA. Journal of Thoracic Disease, 08/02/2018. (Also see Cancer)

People with arthritis are nearly 50% more likely to develop a deadly lung disease, researchers warn. People living with arthritis are at greater risk of a deadly lung disease; it has been added by experts to the list of complications, along with heart disease and diabetes, now linked to the painful condition. Mail Online, 10/20/2017.

Renal (Kidney) Involvement

Prevalence, incidence and prognosis of chronic kidney disease (CKD) classified according to current guidelines: a large retrospective cohort study of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patients. The incidence of CKD increases over time among RA patients and prevalent CKD may be an insidious risk factor linked to increased mortality in RA patients. PubMed, Nephrol Dial Transplant, 2017 Dec 1;32(12):2035-2042.

Risk of incident liver disease in patients with psoriasis (PsO), psoriatic arthritis (PsA) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA): a population–based study. More so than RA, PsO and PsA are associated with liver disease, particularly non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and cirrhosis, and this was true even among patients without systemic therapy exposure. PubMed, J Invest Dermatol, 10/27/2017. (Also see Psoriasis and Psoriatic Arthritis)

End Stage Renal Disease (ESRD) in Patients with Rheumatoid Arthritis. Physicians should be aware of the critical impact of the comorbidities of diabetes and hypertension in causing ESRD in RA patients. Seminars in Arthritis and Rheumatism, 07/16/2016.

Swan Neck Deformity

Swan Neck Deformity is a classic feature of rheumatoid arthritis that is related to laxity and instability of the joint as the rheumatoid lesion destroys the supporting tissues. It is almost never seen in systemic scleroderma (SSc) unless it is in overlap with rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

Vascular Involvement

Association of galectin-3 with markers of myocardial function, atherosclerosis and vascular fibrosis in patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Serum galectin-3 might be useful as a marker of cardiac function and cardiovascular fibrosis in RA patients with low–grade systemic inflammation and long–standing disease. PubMed, Clin Cardiol, 10/23/2018.

Acute effect of a resistance exercise (RE) session on markers of cartilage breakdown and inflammation in women with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Women with and without RA have similar changes in response to a RE session in levels of inflammation biomarkers, but not of cartilage breakdown. PubMed, Int J Rheum Dis, 11/03/2017.

Vascular calcifications on hand radiographs in rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and associations with autoantibodies, cardiovascular risk factors and mortality. Vascular calcifications on hand radiographs were independently associated with increased all-cause mortality in RA. PubMed, Rheumatology (Oxford).

Complications Due to Rheumatoid Arthritis

Incidence and patterns of malignancies in a multi-ethnic cohort of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) patients. There is a trend toward an overall increased malignancy risk in our RA patients compared to the general population. PubMed, Int J Rheum Dis, 07/11/2019.

Rheumatoid arthritis patients' oral health and disease activity. Cooperation between rheumatologists and dentists is important in oral health management in periodontal inflammation. PubMed, Int J Rheum Dis, 05/07/2019. (Also see Periodontal Disease)

Prevalence of and factors associated with dysfunctional low back pain in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. Strictly controlling patients' body weight and disease activity with methotrexate and avoiding spinopelvic malalignment through vertebral fracture prevention are important. PubMed, Eur Spine J, 03/08/2019.

High Burden of Sexual Dysfunction in Female Patients (FSD) with Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA): Results of a Cross–sectional Study. FSD apparently is highly prevalent in female patients with RA, affects all subdomains of sexual function, and is most likely underestimated in daily clinical practice. PubMed, J Rheumatol, 2019 Jan;46(1):19-26. (Also see Female Sexual Dysfunction)

miR-210 expression in PBMCs from patients with systemic lupus erythematosus and rheumatoid arthritis. The dysregulation of miR-210 levels in SLE and RA patients suggests that miR-210 might play an important role in the pathogenesis of these diseases. PubMed, Ir J Med Sci, 05/30/2017. (Also see Lupus Research)

Case Report: Antiphospholipid syndrome (APS) in a patient with rheumatoid arthritis (RA). We report a case of APS manifesting as cutaneous ulceration and necrosis in a patient with severe RA. PubMed, Cutis. (Also see Antiphospholipid Syndrome)

Go to Treatments of Rheumatoid Arthritis

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