Can Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) Cause Other Complications?

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA), a chronic inflammatory disorder causing pain, swelling, stiffness and loss of function in the joints (more commonly, in the wrists and fingers) can also affect other parts of the body. Dr Tan York Kiat, Senior Consultant from the Department of Rheumatology & Immunology at Singapore General Hospital (SGH), a member of the SingHealth group, explains. (iStock photo)   

In Singapore, Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is the most common chronic inflammatory arthritis. The exact cause of RA is unknown, although genes, environment and hormones may be contributing factors.

"For some people, the illness might be relatively self-limited while others have a chronic progressive disease and may suffer from stiff, painful and inflamed joints for a lifetime," Dr Tan said.

What we know is that RA is an autoimmune disorder, characterised by a faulty immune system that attacks the individual's own healthy tissues such as the joint linings (synovium).

But it's not just pain that RA patients have to contend with.

This autoimmune disease can affect other parts of the body too. Even with proper diagnosis and treatment options like medication, physical and occupational therapy and surgery, patients with RA may suffer complications. These include:


What it is: A reduction of red blood cells in the body

Symptoms to watch for: Fatigue, dizziness, rapid heartbeat and shortness of breath

How high is the risk: About 30 to 60 per cent of RA patients are affected

Related article: How to prevent anaemia – Do's and don'ts

Cardiovascular disease

What it is: When the arteries harden due to a build-up of plaque (a condition known as atherosclerosis), there is an increased risk of a heart attack

Symptoms to watch for: No obvious symptoms, until the blood circulation becomes restricted or blocked

How high is the risk: RA patients have a higher risk of death from coronary artery disease (about 60 per cent higher) compared with the general population

Related article: Early heart attack symptoms that can be easily missed

Sjogren's syndrome

What it is: Sjogren's syndrome is a condition where the immune system attacks the glands which produce tears and saliva

Symptoms to watch for: Eyes feel gritty and dry. If left untreated, this dryness can lead to infection and scarring of the conjunctiva. Dry mouth can lead to dental caries with poor oral hygiene

How high is the risk: About 10 to 15 per cent of RA patients are affected

Related article: Does RA affect more males or females? How is it treated?


Articles on are meant for informational purposes only and cannot replace professional surgical, medical or health advice, examination, diagnosis or treatment.