Rheumatoid Arthritis is an autoimmune disorder that causes pain and inflammation in the joints all over the body. The damage to the joints is generally bilateral. Pulmonary Fibrosis on the other hand is a condition where the tissues of the lungs become thick and scarred. This affects the absorption of oxygen into the bloodstream. Needless to say, pulmonary fibrosis ultimately affects the normal functioning of the vital organs of the body due to lack of adequate oxygen supply.[1, 2]
Pulmonary fibrosis is seen more in people with chronic smoking history. People who work outside and are exposed to everyday air pollution are also at risk for this condition. People who have a family history of this condition are also at equal risk. Chronic use of anti-inflammatory medications also increases the risk for pulmonary fibrosis.[1, 2]
Some studies have reflected that around 40% of people with rheumatoid arthritis have pulmonary fibrosis as well. Experts have not been able to identify a clear link but this observation definitely points to one[1, 2]. This article answers this query and details the link between rheumatoid arthritis and pulmonary fibrosis.
What Is The Link Between Pulmonary Fibrosis And Rheumatoid Arthritis?
It has been observed over the past three to four decades that there have been increased incidences of pulmonary abnormalities seen in people with rheumatoid arthritis. It has also been observed that approximately 40% of people with rheumatoid arthritis develop problems with the pulmonary function which suggest presence of lung conditions like interstitial cystitis, restrictive lung disease, or pulmonary fibrosis.
However, the severity of pulmonary fibrosis is not in any way linked to the duration of the rheumatoid arthritis or is related to any extraarticular features of this condition.
Even the overall prognosis of people with rheumatoid arthritis and pulmonary fibrosis is quite the same as people with just pulmonary fibrosis. However, what has additionally been seen is that if not treated then the complications that arise due to pulmonary fibrosis associated with rheumatoid arthritis is more serious and life-threatening.
These complications include pleural effusion, pulmonary hypertension, lung collapse, and interstitial pneumonia. Thus it is vital for a person with rheumatoid arthritis to see a pulmonary specialist if he or she has documented lung issues that lasts for more than a month. This is recommended by the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society.
A visit to a physician is also recommended in people with rheumatoid arthritis if they become short of breath even with everyday tasks. It should be noted here that pulmonary fibrosis and rheumatoid arthritis both do not have a cure and the treatment is only aimed at managing the symptoms and decrease the progression of the disease.
Some of the medications recommended to treat pulmonary fibrosis associated with rheumatoid arthritis include antiinflammatories, immune suppressant medications, corticosteroids, and oxygen therapy to promote normal breathing. There are also certain lifestyle changes that will need to be made in people with rheumatoid arthritis linked pulmonary fibrosis. In such people, smoking is something that needs to be abstained from. Exercises to strengthen the lungs are highly recommended.
In conclusion, rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder that can affect any joint in the body. There have been cases seen in which rheumatoid arthritis has resulted in scarring of the lungs resulting in a condition called pulmonary fibrosis. The severity of pulmonary fibrosis associated with rheumatoid arthritis differs from individual to individual.
The progression of the disease is also quite variable in which some people may have rapid progression while in others it may take years to progress. The reason behind this is believed to be age of onset, genetic makeup, and overall lifestyle of the person. Various studies mention that an average life expectancy of a person with rheumatoid arthritis and pulmonary fibrosis is somewhere between 2.5 to 5 years even though it is just a rough estimate and is based on population studies done at a very large scale.
Thus it is highly recommended that people with rheumatoid arthritis that have lung problems should consult with a physician at the earliest and discuss with then the nature and frequency of the symptoms. However, it should be mentioned that with advancement in the research in rheumatoid and pulmonary fibrosis it is quite possible now for people with both these conditions to manage the symptoms and have a better quality of life even in the long run.
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