Rheumatoid arthritis - Complications 

Complications of rheumatoid arthritis 

Having rheumatoid arthritis can put you at a higher risk of developing other conditions.

These conditions are described below.

Carpal tunnel syndrome

Carpal tunnel syndrome is when there is too much pressure on the nerve in the wrist. It can cause aching, numbness and tingling in your thumb, fingers and part of the hand. This is a common condition in people with rheumatoid arthritis.

Inflammation

As rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammatory condition, it can sometimes cause inflammation to develop in other parts of your body. These areas are described below. 

  • Lungs – inflammation of the lung lining is known as pleurisy, which causes chest pain, particularly when you breathe deeply.
  • Heart – inflammation of the tissue around the heart is known as pericarditis, which causes mild to severe chest pain.
  • Eyes – inflammation of the eye glands is known as Sjogren's syndrome which can cause dry eyes and mouth. When the white part of the eye is affected (the sclerae), it is known as scleritis.
  • Blood vessels – inflammation of the blood vessels is known as vasculitis. Vasculitis is a rare condition that causes inflammation of the blood vessels. It can lead to the thickening, weakening, narrowing and scarring of blood vessel walls. In serious cases, it can affect blood flow to your body's organs and tissues.

Tendon rupture

Tendons are pieces of flexible tissue that attach muscle to bone. Rheumatoid arthritis can cause your tendons to become inflamed, which in severe cases can cause them to rupture. This most commonly affects the tendons on the backs of the fingers.

Cervical myelopathy

If you have had rheumatoid arthritis for some time, you are at increased risk of developing cervical myelopathy and you may need special assessment of your neck before any operation where you are put to sleep.

This condition is caused by dislocation of joints at the top of the spine, which put pressure on the spinal cord. Although relatively uncommon, it is a serious condition that can greatly affect your mobility. 

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Page last reviewed: 25/07/2012

Next review due: 25/07/2014

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