Surprising Effects of Rheumatoid Arthritis (and Easy Tips to Treat or Avoid Them)

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skin conditions related to rheumatoid arthritisI don’t need to tell you about the pain and discomfort of rheumatoid arthritis. This crippling condition that impacts so many Americans hurts, is frustrating, and can severely impact your quality of life. But I want to look at some issues related to this disease that you may not know about.

I know I wasn’t aware of them until a relative with rheumatoid arthritis mentioned she was suffering with some symptoms that had nothing to do with joint pain!

For the most part, we’re aware of the symptoms. But the joint pain, stiffness, and discomfort are not the only concerns brought on by rheumatoid arthritis. Yes, they are the most crippling and difficult to deal with…but rheumatoid arthritis can also impact your skin! Pain is sometimes caused by the rheumatoid arthritis itself, or by skin reactions brought on by the medications you might be taking to relieve the pain.

So, to keep you in the loop, I’ve put together a list of some of the most common skin conditions associated with rheumatoid arthritis, along with what you can do about them:

Raynaud’s Phenomenon

This skin condition is caused by limited blood flow to your fingers and toes. Inflammation from rheumatoid arthritis can cause the blood vessels in these areas to constrict. This is worsened by cold temperatures and stress.

If you notice your fingers or toes turning white or blue, or they become cold or numb, Raynaud’s phenomenon could be affecting you. In order to keep it from happening, try stimulating your fingers and toes by wiggling them or lightly rubbing them.

When the blood vessels open up, you might experience throbbing or unusual heat in the area as they refill with blood. This pain is temporary, but can be limited when you feel the numbness or coldness begin to set in.

Sometimes, Raynaud’s phenomenon can create sores on your fingertips called ulcers. They heal slowly, and can be quite a nuisance.

This condition mainly occurs in the winter months, so be sure to wear gloves and keep your hands warm when you can. Even if you’re using the freezer this summer, consider wearing gloves to pull items out.

Rheumatoid Nodules

These are a very common skin condition for people with rheumatoid arthritis. Reports suggest that as many as 20% to 50% of sufferers get them. Rheumatoid nodules are small lumps of tissue that grow under the skin, typically in bony areas like the fingers or elbows. They can disappear on their own, or you can talk to your doctor about possible treatments.

Skin Sensitivity

Although the pain and inflammation in the joints caused by rheumatoid arthritis increases sensitivity to the affected areas, certain drugs can make your skin more sensitive to touch. Corticosteroid medications and creams can make you more vulnerable to bruising by weakening the skin. So if you’re using one of these medications and notice a big bruise from a light bump, you needn’t worry, as it’s likely a result of the medication. If it becomes a major issue, make sure you talk to your doctor.

Even non-steroidal anti-inflammatories can create skin sensitivities. So, burns might be a little more common as a result. If you’re going to be spending time outside, make sure you apply sunscreen with a factor of at least 30 SPF, reapplying every 90 minutes.

These are the most common skin conditions associated with rheumatoid arthritis. However, if you notice any other rashes or reactions, it’s wise to schedule an appointment with your doctor.

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 Sources for Today’s Article:
Zelman, D., “Rheumatoid Arthritis Skin Problems,” Web MD, September 5, 2014; http://www.webmd.com/rheumatoid-arthritis/guide/rheumatoid-arthritis-skin-problems?page=2, last accessed April 8, 2015.
Greenfield, P., “5 Ways Rheumatoid Arthritis Affects Your Skin,” CNN web site, May 5, 2103; http://inhealth.cnn.com/taking-control-of-ra/5-ways-rheumatoid-arthritis-affects-your-skin?did=t1_rss1d, last accessed April 8, 2015.


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Adrian Newman, B.A.

About the Author, Browse Adrian's Articles

Adrian has been working in the information publishing world since 1997. But when it comes to health information, he’s a self-admitted late bloomer. A couch potato since pre-school, Adrian was raised on TV, video games and a lifestyle that led to childhood obesity that followed him well into adulthood. But when he hit his forties, he decided enough was enough. He had a family to take care of and his days of overeating, under-exercising and inactivity were going to lead... Read Full Bio »