Rheumatoid arthritis: How the autoimmune disease can lead to lung disease

Arthritis is no walk in the park. In fact, it can make any walk around the park inconvenient, painful and arduous. And, did you know that one form of arthritis can even lead to lung damage?

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease whereby the immune system mistakenly attacks the lining of the joints.

Specifically, the synovium – the tissue lining around the joint that produces a fluid to help the joint move freely – is targeted.

This causes joint inflammation and pain, mainly experienced in the hands, knees and ankles.


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In the early stages of the condition, Arthritis Foundation states that people may experience tenderness in the joints.

This can develop into joint pain, swelling or stiffness that lasts six weeks or longer.

In the mornings, stiffness tends to last for 30 minutes or longer.

And, usually, more than one joint is affected at the same time.

Some people with rheumatoid arthritis may experience fatigue and have a low-grade fever.

The symptoms of this condition come and go, with a flare-up lasting anywhere from a couple of days to months.

Aside from joint pain, the most common health complication that develops from rheumatoid arthritis is problems with the lungs.

This includes small growths in the lungs, called pulmonary nodules.

And a build-up of fluid between the lung and chest wall, known as pleural effusion.

Or damage to the airways, known as bronchiectasis. It can even lead to interstitial lung disease (ILD).

In fact, it’s estimated that one in 10 people with rheumatoid arthritis will develop ILD.

ILD refers to inflammation and scarring of the lung tissue caused by an overactive immune system.


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As scarring builds up over time, breathing can become more difficult.

Patients with this complication may need a lung transplant to breathe properly.

Those with rheumatoid arthritis have an eight times higher risk of developing lung disease.

This risk increases even more if you smoke, are older than 60 years old and are a man.

Early treatment of lung disease will help to reduce a person’s mortality risk.

Such options include corticosteroid and immunosuppressants and oxygen therapy.

The best preventative measure is to treat the underlying rheumatoid arthritis and resulting inflammation.

The best course of action is best discussed with your doctor.

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