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Complications of rheumatoid arthritis

Having rheumatoid arthritis (RA) can put you at a higher risk of developing other conditions:

  • Carpal tunnel syndrome – this is a common condition in people with rheumatoid arthritis. Carpal tunnel syndrome is when there is too much pressure on the nerve in the wrist. It can cause aching, numbness and tingling in your thumb, fingers and part of the hand.
  • Inflammation – because rheumatoid arthritis is an inflammatory condition, it can sometimes cause inflammation to develop in other parts of your body, such as your lungs, heart, blood vessels or eyes.
  • Tendon rupture – tendons are pieces of flexible tissue that attach muscle to bone. Rheumatoid arthritis can cause your tendons to be become inflamed, which in severe cases can cause them to rupture. This most commonly affects the tendons on the backs of the fingers.
  • Cervical myelopathy – if you have had rheumatoid arthritis for some time, you are at increased risk of developing cervical myelopathy and you may need special assessment of your neck before any operation where you are given general anaesthetic. This condition is caused by dislocation of joints at the top of the spine, which put pressure on the spinal cord. Although relatively uncommon, it is a serious condition that can greatly affect your mobility. 
  • Vasculitis – this is a rare condition that causes inflammation of the blood vessels. It can lead to the thickening, weakening, narrowing and scarring of blood vessel walls. In serious cases, it can affect blood flow to your body's organs and tissues.
  • Joint damage – you can experience permanent damage to your joints if your RA isn’t well controlled. This might need to be treated with surgery.
  • Cardiovascular disease – People with RA are at higher risk of heart attacks and strokes.

Last reviewed: October 2017

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