Rheumatoid Arthritis Complications

How common are complications of RA?

Most so-called complications of RA are actually manifestations of the disease itself. Unfortunately, there is a common misunderstanding that Rheumatoid Arthritis is a joint disease. So, extra-articular manifestations are seen as complications instead of symptoms of the RA.

Extra-articular symptoms of RA are very common. Most patients have fatigue, fever, sleep problems, rashes, or dry eyes.  More serious conditions such as heart or lung involvement are also not uncommon. More than half of all people with RA die from heart disease which is associated with RA. (1)

Is Rheumatoid Arthritis a dangerous illness?

There are several dangerous aspects of RA. Some are more able to be treated than others. What is crucial is knowledge about risks, aggressive treatment, and vigilant clinicians. It is also important to examine and treat any lung problems with RA because there are numerous ways that RA can affect the lungs.

Rheumatoid heart disease leads to early death in many patients. The tests and treatments of conventional heart disease do not necessarily work as well. Monitoring and treating what is often the silent heart disease of RA is very important.

The cervical spine is affected in 83 percent of RA patients early in the disease. Cervical spine involvement can affect 90 percent of patients after several years and cervical spine subluxations are also common. (2) While this can be dangerous (3), if this is monitored and treated, most patients will do well.

The RA page on Dr. Jurgen Harms’ website details specific spinal complications of RA as well as common deformities of other joints.

Does Fibromyalgia syndrome lead to RA?

People diagnosed with Fibromyalgia syndrome are sometimes eventually diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis. There are several theories about what FMS is or what causes it, but it is not believed to be related to RA. Rheumatologists vary widely on their views of this subject.

Numerous RA patients have also had FMS added to their RA diagnosis. This is often changed or disputed when they see different doctors. This may also be due to the different perspectives rheumatologists have about RA symptoms. In many cases the diagnosis of Rheumatoid Arthritis can account for all symptoms in RA patients (see What about clinical remission?)


1) Barclay, Laurie. "Mortality Gap Widens for Patients With Rheumatoid Arthritis. " Medscape News Today. October, 2007.

2) Wheeless, Clifford R.  "Cervical Spine in RA." Duke Orthopaedics. April, 2011.

3)  Riise, T; Jacobsen, BK; Gran, JT. "High mortality in patients with rheumatoid arthritis and atlantoaxial subluxation." PubMed. November, 2001.

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