My Sanford Chart allows you secure online access to your personal health information and your child's health information. It's available anywhere you have internet access. There is no cost to you and registering is quick and simple.

Sign Up for My Sanford Chart

Rheumatoid Arthritis: Systemic Symptoms

Topic Overview

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 disease.

Problems associated with rheumatoid arthritis can develop in the:

  • Eyes. Inflammation of the surface of the eye (scleritis) may result in dry, gritty-feeling eyes or pain in the eyes.
  • Lungs. Inflammation of the membrane sac surrounding the lungs may cause pain and difficult breathing. Bumps (nodules) may also develop in lung tissue.
  • 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.
  • Nerves 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.

Related Information

Credits

By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Nancy Ann Shadick, MD, MPH - Internal Medicine, Rheumatology
Last Revised June 5, 2012

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information. Your use of this information means that you agree to the Terms of Use. How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.

© 1995-2013 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.