Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune condition that is known to affect the entire body. It occurs when the immune system of the body attacks the healthy tissues considering them as diseased.(1) Rheumatoid arthritis is associated with joint pain and inflammation that in severe cases spreads to other parts of the body. It is also associated with skin conditions. The severity of the condition indicates the severity of the disease.
How Does Rheumatoid Arthritis Affect Skin?
Nodules are the harmful lump of tissues that form under the skin of the bony areas of the body including the elbow, ankles, and fingers. They can even occur around other body organs including the lungs. The size of the nodules varies from pea size to that of a golf ball and they may be painful.
It is found that rheumatoid nodules affect 25% of people with rheumatic factor positive rheumatoid arthritis.(2) Rheumatoid factor is a protein that is produced by the immune system, causing it to attack the healthy tissues.
Rheumatoid Arthritis Rash
Rheumatoid arthritis rashes may appear as red, painful, and itchy patches and may be seen as deep red pinpricks. Their most common site is rash at the fingertips. As they advance they may form painful ulcers that on getting infected may lead to further complications.
These rashes are caused due to inflammation of the arteries that bring blood to various organs, including skin and nerves. These inflamed arteries are known as rheumatoid vasculitis and lead to patches and rheumatoid rashes on the skin surface. These also cause rashes on or around the legs that are known occupy larger areas.(3)
Livedo reticualris though not a common condition associated with rheumatoid arthritis, research indicates it to be associated with rheumatoid vasculitis. The rashes due to this condition are harmless and common in colder weather. The condition leads to spasms of blood vessels and a net-like appearance on the skin. It may also lead to ulcers, nodules, and discoloration.
Livedo reticularis may also indicate a peripheral vascular disease or a clot in the blood vessels.
Sometimes medications for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis may cause a rash on the skin of the people. It may occur due to an allergic reaction to the medications.
If such as rash is experienced, the doctor should be contacted. Depending on the severity the doctor would alter the dose of the medication itself.
Also, the medications prescribed to treat rheumatoid arthritis may make people susceptible to other skin problems, for example some drugs can make people more sensitive to sunlight.
Recurrent hives are another skin condition experienced by people with rheumatoid arthritis. The rashes that appear are similar to medication rash but may form independently without any medication. These are treated with antihistamines.
Treatment of Skin Conditions that Occur Because of Rheumatoid Arthritis
The treatment of rheumatoid arthritis depends on the underlying condition. Reducing the symptom severity of rheumatoid arthritis also helps in clearing up the rashes. In severe cases, the rashes may be treated directly. The doctor may prescribe antibiotics or steroids to treat the infection. Topical creams and ointments are also prescribed in the treatment. The steroids help in reducing the swelling.
If medications are the cause of the rashes on the skin they are either replaced or if very necessary reduced to reduce the skin symptoms.
There is no way to prevent the skin symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. However, different therapies and medications are tried to reduce their severity. Serious skin complications are rare these days. The skin symptoms can be managed and treated more efficiently if caught early on. Healthy lifestyle practices may also benefit a person with rheumatoid arthritis, which include:
- Getting plenty of rest
- Exercising whenever possible
- Coping with stress
- Eating a healthy diet
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