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What Causes Rheumatoid Lung Disease and How to Treat Them? | Symptoms and Prognosis of Rheumatoid Lung Disease

What is Rheumatoid Lung Disease?

Rheumatoid Arthritis is quite a common autoimmune disorder characterized by severe pain in the joints and inflicts significant damage throughout the body. Rheumatoid Arthritis can be quite a disabling condition for many people. Both genetic and environmental factors are at play when it comes to contributing factors for rheumatoid arthritis. Approximately 1% of the population in the United States has rheumatoid arthritis that impact the quality of life, personal and professional life, and functional status of the person.[1,2,3]

The effects of rheumatoid arthritis reach far beyond the joints of the body and it is quite common to see the pulmonary system and the lungs get affected with this disease as well. In fact, the involvement of lungs in people with rheumatoid arthritis is believed to be directly responsible morbidity and mortality. Rheumatoid arthritis can affect the airways, parenchyma, and pleura.[1,2,3]

Pathologic inflammation and pulmonary fibrosis is also something that can be seen in people with rheumatoid arthritis with lung involvement. In some cases, people develop lung nodules as a result of rheumatoid arthritis.[1,2,3]

What Causes Rheumatoid Lung Disease?

As stated, Rheumatoid Lung Disease is a complication of rheumatoid arthritis. Generally, rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder that primarily affects the joints of the body causing them to get inflamed. However, sometimes, other organ systems also get affected with rheumatoid arthritis including the lungs causing them to get inflamed and scarred.[3]

The Arthritis Foundation estimates that approximately 10% of people with rheumatoid arthritis go on to develop lung complications including Rheumatoid Lung Disease. This disease can occur in various forms like interstitial lung disease in which there is inflammation and scarring of the lungs. Rheumatoid Lung Disease can also occur in the form of pleural effusions in which there is accumulation of fluid between the chest wall and lungs. There may also be development of lung nodules in some cases.[3]

What are the Symptoms of Rheumatoid Lung Disease?

The symptoms of Rheumatoid Lung Disease are quite variable and depend on how the disease manifests itself. Some cases of Rheumatoid Lung Disease are completely asymptomatic such as when there are lung nodules present. However, if there is scarring and inflammation then the person may experience problems breathing, weakness, loss of appetite, non productive cough, persistent fatigue, and weight loss.[3]

How is Rheumatoid Lung Disease Treated?

The treatment for Rheumatoid Lung Disease is again variable depending on its manifestation and the symptoms that the patient experiences. In cases where the individual has pleural effusion then needle aspiration of the fluid is the frontline treatment for it. Lung nodules that are asymptomatic and are benign do not require any treatment and just close monitoring is enough.[3]

Treatment is generally required in cases where rheumatoid arthritis causes inflammation and scarring of the lungs even though these treatments do not reverse any damage caused to the lungs. The treatment is completely symptomatic and supportive and aimed at slowing the progression of the condition. Some of the treatment options for this include.[3]

Medication: Physicians recommend medications to decrease inflammation or act as immunosuppressants to decrease the progression of the disease. However, the efficacy of these medications has been questioned by researchers.[3]

Pulmonary Rehabilitation: This is yet another treatment that is frequently given for people with Rheumatoid Lung Disease. This treatment involves a series of exercises that help people with breathing problems and improve their overall quality of life. However, the rheumatoid arthritis may prevent many people from exercising fluently due to joint problems thus making it difficult for them to do these exercises.[3]

Oxygen Therapy: In cases where a person has severe difficulty breathing then supplemental oxygen may have to be given till the breathing normalizes.[3]

Lung Transplant: This is recommended in severe cases of Rheumatoid Lung Disease. However, not everyone with this condition is eligible for a lung transplant and there are quite a few parameters that need to be fulfilled to become eligible for this procedure.[3]

What Is The Prognosis Of Rheumatoid Lung Disease?

Since Rheumatoid Lung Disease is a collection of disorders, hence the prognosis of the condition depends on which form of disease the patient has and the severity of it. The prognosis is quite guarded to poor in people who develop scarring of the lungs as a result of Rheumatoid Lung Disease.[3]

A research done on the prognosis of Rheumatoid Lung Disease states that the average survival rate of people with interstitial lung disease due to rheumatoid arthritis is anywhere between 3 to 8 years after the diagnosis. In addition, the changes in the lungs due to rheumatoid arthritis can also change with time and more complications can develop which further affects the overall prognosis of the patient.[3]

In conclusion, rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder that not only affects the joints of the body but can also impact other organ systems including the lungs. When this occurs it is termed as Rheumatoid Lung Disease which is a collection of lung disorders that occur due to rheumatoid arthritis.[1,2,3]

People with rheumatoid arthritis are not always able to prevent pulmonary complications including development of Rheumatoid Lung Disease. However, there are ways with which a person can reduce the complications that can arise due to Rheumatoid Lung Disease by making some lifestyle modifications like abstaining from smoking and closely monitoring the lungs and getting checked up regularly. This will help in detecting any issues with the lungs so that it can be treated at the earliest possible time and prevent any unnecessary complications due to Rheumatoid Lung Disease.[1,2,3]


Sheetal DeCaria, M.D.
Sheetal DeCaria, M.D.
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Sheetal DeCaria, M.D. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:July 20, 2021

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