Rheumatoid Disease, also known as Rheumatoid Arthritis, carries with it a myriad of symptoms, comorbidities, and increased mortality rate.
In a Facebook group, someone recently commented that Rheumatoid Disease is a death sentence. As in most social media, people jumped on her and blasted her for saying it’s a death sentence. However, it can be. Most of the time it’s not, but many of the complications are serious, even life-threatening, and it’s important to not ignore these. I’m going to focus on the lung complications for this post. In later posts, I will focus on other body systems and serious complications.
Several lung conditions occur in Rheumatoid Disease. Most are caused by inflammation including pleuritis, pulmonary fibrosis, pulmonary rheumatoid nodules, and interstitial lung disease.1https://rheumatoidarthritis.net/symptoms/lung-diseases-and-conditions/
Pleuritis or pleurisy – the pleura, or the sac surrounding the lungs, becomes inflamed, and often fluid builds up in this sac – pleural effusion. The symptoms of pleurisy include pain with respiration. A pleural effusion can cause shortness of breath including pain on breathing. A large pleural effusion can be an emergency.2https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/rheumatoid-arthritis/expert-answers/rheumatoid-arthritis/FAQ-20058245
While treatable, complications may arise from a pulmonary effusion. If not treated early, it can cause permanent scarring of the lungs.
If you have symptoms of pleural effusion, you should seek medical attention as soon as possible. One study has shown that as many as fifteen percent of people admitted with a pleural effusion die within thirty days of admission.3https://www.healthline.com/health/pleural-effusion
Pulmonary Rheumatoid Nodules
Pulmonary Rheumatoid Nodules are small lumps. They can also develop in other areas of the body and will be addressed more in-depth in a separate post. They usually have no signs and symptoms however they may rupture and cause a collapsed lung.4https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/rheumatoid-arthritis/expert-answers/rheumatoid-arthritis/FAQ-20058245
Interstitial Lung Disease
ILD, or interstitial lung disease, is a group of disorders that cause inflammation and scarring when the immune system attacks the lungs. It’s hard to diagnose because the symptoms of a dry cough and shortness of breath don’t show up until extensive damage is done. It’s estimated that one in ten people with Rheumatoid Disease will develop interstitial lung disease.
Those who are diagnosed and treated early may be put on the waiting list for a lung transplant sooner.
ILD is difficult to diagnose and difficult to treat. Once it’s diagnosed, the life expectancy is 2.6 years.5http://www.arthritis.org/about-arthritis/types/rheumatoid-arthritis/articles/lung-disease-rheumatoid-arthritis.php
While the lung complications aren’t common, they do happen. It’s important to know and recognize the symptoms. The earlier lung complications are treated, the better the outcome.