Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) Symptoms, Causes, and Risk Factors


Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease. Your body’s immune system sends out antibodies when it detects an infection to destroy it. If you have an autoimmune disease, your immune system mistakenly sends antibodies to healthy tissues, which then begin to attack them. The tissue most often affected by rheumatoid arthritis is the tissue around your joints. In fact, “arthritis” literally means “inflammation of the joints”.

So you could be forgiven for thinking that rheumatoid arthritis is only a joint problem, but many other parts of the body can be inflamed. But many other parts of the body can become inflamed. This can cause a whole range of symptoms that you may not immediately associate with arthritis. Let’s take a look at some of the more surprising symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis.



10 early signs and symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis

The inflammation that occurs throughout the body in rheumatoid arthritis can lead to feelings of physical weakness, drowsiness and exhaustion. These symptoms usually appear much earlier in the disease, before the more classic rheumatoid arthritis symptoms of joint pain and swelling. If you experience unexplained fatigue, you should always see your doctor, as it may be a sign of something much more serious.


Weight loss

Although rheumatoid arthritis is more common in people who are overweight or obese, living with this disease can actually make you lose weight. This is because rheumatoid arthritis can cause flu-like symptoms, such as loss of appetite, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting. In other words, you may not feel like eating at all, which can cause you to lose weight unintentionally.


High temperature and sweating

Remember that with rheumatoid arthritis, your immune system begins to treat healthy cells as if they were an infection. One of the ways your immune system fights infection is by raising your body temperature. Your immune system uses exactly the same tactic when it attacks your own cells if you have rheumatoid arthritis. That’s why you may experience flu-like symptoms, as well as a low-grade fever and sweating.


Red or dry eyes

Inflammation of the eyes is common in rheumatoid arthritis and can lead to a condition called sclerosis, which manifests itself as red and painful eyes. Dry eyes are not directly caused by rheumatoid arthritis but by a related autoimmune condition called Sjógren’s syndrome. People with rheumatoid arthritis are much more likely to have other autoimmune diseases as well, so dry eyes can be a sign that you have both.


Chest pain

People with rheumatoid arthritis are more likely to have heart problems, such as pericarditis, which can cause chest pain. This is due to inflammation of the tissue around your heart. You are also more likely to have cardiovascular disease if your rheumatoid arthritis is not treated. Cardiovascular disease can lead to serious or even fatal health problems, such as heart attacks or strokes.


Skin rashes, ulcers or tingling.

Rheumatoid arthritis can cause inflammation of the blood vessels, also called vasculitis. The affected blood vessels can be anywhere in the body, but they are often located in the skin, causing rashes and ulcers, and in the nervous system, causing tingling or numbness.


Coughing and shortness of breath

The inflammation of rheumatoid arthritis can also affect your lungs. Over time, this inflammation can cause scarring or damage to lung tissue, which can lead to a variety of respiratory conditions, including pleurisy or pulmonary fibrosis. You may also be at risk for fluid buildup in your chest, called pleural effusion, or pulmonary hypertension, which is high blood pressure in your lungs.


Carpal tunnel syndrome

The carpal tunnel is a passage in your wrist through which your median nerve passes. This nerve controls the movement and sensitivity of the thumb and all fingers (except the pinky). Rheumatoid arthritis can cause inflammation of the carpal tunnel which puts pressure on the median nerve. This is known as carpal tunnel syndrome. Typical symptoms are numbness and itching in the hand, as well as weakness and difficulty grasping objects.


Bunions, claw toes or hammertoes.

Inflammation of your joints can cause them to become deformed over time. This is due to the breakdown of cartilage and connective tissue that are no longer able to properly support the joint. Smaller joints are more affected than larger ones, so these deformities tend to occur in the feet and can take the form of bunions, claw toes or hammertoes.



Anemia occurs when your body does not have enough red blood cells to carry enough oxygen through your body and can cause symptoms such as

shortness of breath
chest pain
pale or yellow skin
Rheumatoid arthritis is associated with a few different types of anemia, including anemia of chronic disease, hemolytic anemia, iron deficiency anemia and megaloblastic anemia. You may even have a combination of different types of anemia. Rheumatoid arthritis can be linked to anemia because of the medications used to treat it, but it can also directly cause anemia by shortening the life of your red blood cells.

Causes of rheumatoid arthritis
The exact cause of rheumatoid arthritis is not yet known, but some theories suggest that it may be triggered by an infection in the body and an overreaction of the immune system. Some people are more likely to develop this disease than others.

Risk factors may include
genetics – rheumatoid arthritis appears to be hereditary
Hormones – the disease is more common in women than in men, possibly because of estrogen
Smoking – smokers have a higher risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis, but we don’t yet know exactly why.

Final thoughts
Of course, the most obvious symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis are pain, swelling and stiffness in the joints, which are worse in the morning. But the inflammation caused by this autoimmune disease is not limited to your joints. It’s important to know the other ways your body can be affected by rheumatoid arthritis if you want to catch this disease early and start treating and managing it.



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