Unusual Symptoms of Rheumatoid Arthritis

1. Hearing problems

People with rheumatoid arthritis report a number of problems with their hearing, from hearing loss to tinnitus. While it’s not completely clear why this happens, evidence points to the body-wide inflammation that’s common with RA.

Some medications are also linked to hearing problems, including some of the medications used to treat RA, including nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs, which include hydroxychloroquine and methotrexate.

2. Skin rashes and bruising

Redness, heat, and inflammation over joints affected by RA are common symptoms with the disease, but some people report other skin problems like rashes, discoloration, and becoming easily bruised.

Common skin reactions associated with RA itself can include:

  • hives
  • bruising
  • tiny purple, red, or brown spots called petichiae
  • pustules
  • nodules

While these symptoms can be caused by the disease itself, be sure to talk with your doctor if you experience them. They can also be side effects of some of the medications used to treat RA.

3. Breathing problems

Symptoms like snoring, coughing, and other breathing problems can be caused by all kinds of diseases or infections. However, lung diseases like obstructive sleep apnea have been linked to RA.

While these links may be coincidental, a small 2014 study suggested that the inflammation that causes a host of other symptoms with RA might also be the cause of breathing problems.

4. Numbness and tingling

Numbness, tingling, and even weakness in your arms, legs, hands, and feet is called peripheral neuropathy. This problem makes an appearance in a number of chronic conditions, including RA.

There are many reasons why these symptoms may develop, including joint inflammation and pressure on nerves that run through those joints. But researchers wonder why some people get these symptoms, since a small 2011 study showed that there’s no apparent link to the severity of RA. Neuropathy can strike in mild cases of RA and advanced cases.

5. Gum disease

There are lots of reasons that gum disease can develop, but it’s been observed as a common complication in people with RA since the early 1900s. Only recently, a 2016 study showed that gingivitis, or gum disease, in people with RA is often caused by the same bacteria that triggers the autoimmune inflammatory response that happens in RA.

6. Increased body fat

Decreased muscle mass is common in people with many types of chronic arthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis is no exception. Reduced activity due to joint inflammation and pain can lead to loss of muscle mass, as well as increases in body fat, according to a 2018 study.

As this shift happens, increased body fat and lower muscle mass can add to the already significant cardiovascular risk people which people with RA have from the inflammation caused by the disease.

7. Eye irritation

The body-wide inflammation that causes RA isn’t just limited to the joints, and even your eyes can experience symptoms from this condition. Dryness, redness, and swelling can develop, and even ulcers.

While these symptoms can sometimes be treated with medications or eye drops, problems like redness might not go away completely.

8. Sleep problems

A lot of chronic conditions lead to disrupted sleep. In RA, this seems to be linked to the severity of the disease and the pain it causes. One 2014 study showed that RA pain can cause sleeplessness, which in turn can increase daytime sleepiness and other sleep problems.

9. Cognitive, mood, and emotional disturbances

Chronic illnesses and pain have long been linked with depression. Changes in lifestyle, a loss of ability or function, and pain can all contribute to depression.

A 2019 research review pointed to RA causing disruptions to the chemicals and neurotransmitters in the brain. All of these together can lead to emotional and mood disturbances, as well as trouble concentrating and other cognitive issues.

10. Digestion problems

People with RA are about 70 percent more likely to develop gastrointestinal problems than people without the condition, according to the Arthritis Foundation. These problems are likely due to a number of things, including:

  • medications you’re taking to treat RA
  • other conditions you have alongside RA
  • infections
  • autoimmune complications from RA

A 2019 population-based study found that roughly 20 percent of people with RA have irritable bowel syndrome, as well as other symptoms like nausea and bloating. Researchers have linked these problems to other immune-related conditions, too.

What to do if you suspect you have RA

If you’re experiencing one or more of these symptoms, talk with a doctor about your concerns. If they have reason to believe you have RA, they may order some lab testing and refer you to a specialist.

A rheumatologist will oversee your RA care, but you may speak with other specialists as well to address specific symptoms. Your team of doctors may include orthopedists, physical therapists, pain management specialists, and others.

RA is a chronic disease, and you will manage it throughout your life as you experience flare-ups and periods of remission. It will take a multipronged approach — and a number of healthcare specialists — to help you meet your health needs.

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