Which parts of the body are affected by rheumatoid arthritis (RA) in addition to joints?

Updated: Feb 07, 2020
  • Author: Howard R Smith, MD; Chief Editor: Herbert S Diamond, MD  more...
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In addition, RA is a systemic disease that can affect other parts of the body in addition to joints. These effects include the following:

  • Anemia

  • Infections – Patients with RA are at greater risk for infections; immunosuppressive drugs further increase that risk

  • GI problems – Patients with RA may experience stomach and intestinal distress; however, lower rates of stomach and colorectal cancers have been reported in RA patients

  • Osteoporosis – This condition is more common than average in postmenopausal women with RA; the hip is particularly affected; the risk of osteoporosis appears to be higher than average in men with RA who are older than 60 years

  • Lung disease – A small study found a high prevalence of pulmonary inflammation and fibrosis in patients with newly diagnosed RA, but this finding may be associated with smoking

  • Heart disease – RA can affect blood vessels and increase the risk of coronary ischemic heart disease

  • Sjögren syndrome – Keratoconjunctivitis sicca is a common complication of RA; oral sicca and salivary gland enlargement are less common

  • Felty syndrome – This condition is characterized by splenomegaly, leukopenia, and recurrent bacterial infections; it may respond to disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs)

  • Lymphoma and other cancers – RA-associated immune system alterations may play a role; aggressive treatments for RA may help prevent such cancers

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