Rheumatoid arthritis primarily affects the joints but
can also affect the whole body, causing what are called systemic symptoms.
These systemic symptoms occur especially in people who have severe
Problems associated with rheumatoid arthritis can develop in
Eyes. Inflammation of the surface of the eye
(scleritis) may result in dry, gritty-feeling eyes or pain in the
Lungs. Inflammation of the membrane sac surrounding the lungs
may cause pain and difficult breathing. Bumps (nodules) may also develop in
Heart. Thickening and inflammation can develop in the
sac around the heart (pericarditis), the heart muscle (myocarditis), and the heart valves (endocarditis). This can result in chest pain and
shortness of breath.
Blood and blood vessels. Low levels of white
blood cells (leukopenia) and red blood cells (anemia) as well
as spleen enlargement (an organ involved in making blood and immune cells) may
occur. When these problems occur together, it is called Felty's syndrome.
Inflammation can also affect the blood vessels (vasculitis),
causing open sores (ulcers) of the skin. And people who have rheumatoid arthritis seem to develop plaque deposits in arteries (atherosclerosis) earlier than people who do not have rheumatoid arthritis.
and muscles. There may be a loss of strength in muscles next to affected
joints. Inflammation may also cause pressure on the nerves (compression). An
example is compression of one of the nerves in the wrist, which affects
sensation in the thumb, index, and middle fingers. This is called
carpal tunnel syndrome.
ByHealthwise Staff Primary Medical ReviewerAnne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine Donald Sproule, MDCM, CCFP - Family Medicine Martin J. Gabica, MD - Family Medicine Kathleen Romito, MD - Family Medicine Specialist Medical ReviewerNancy Ann Shadick, MD, MPH - Internal Medicine, Rheumatology