Nodules. About half of people with RA develop rheumatoid nodules – lumps of tissue that form under the skin, often over bony areas exposed to pressure, such as fingers or elbows. Unless the nodule is located in a sensitive spot, such as where you hold a pen, treatment may not be necessary. Nodules sometimes disappear on their own or with treatment with disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs).
Rashes. When RA-related inflammation of the blood vessels (called vasculitis) affects the skin, a rash of small red dots is the result. In more severe cases, vasculitis can cause skin ulcers on the legs or under the nails. Controlling the rash or ulcers requires controlling the underlying inflammation.
Drug effects. Corticosteroids, prescribed to reduce inflammation, can cause thinning of the skin and susceptibility to bruising. Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), which treat pain and inflammation, and methotrexate, a widely prescribed DMARD, can cause sun sensitivity. People taking biologics, a sub-category of DMARDs designed to stop inflammation at the cellular level, may develop a rash at the injection site.
Thinning. Chronic inflammation from RA leads to loss of bone density, not only around the joints, but throughout the body, leading to thin, brittle bones. Exercise, a high-calcium diet and vitamin D can all help bones, but in some cases your doctor may need to prescribe a drug to stimulate bone growth or prevent bone loss.
Drug effects. Corticosteroids can also cause bone thinning.
Inflammation and scarring. Some people with RA develop inflammation of the whites of the eyes (scleritis) that can lead to scarring. Symptoms include pain, redness, blurred vision and light sensitivity. Scleritis is usually treatable with medications prescribed by your doctor, but in rare cases, the eye may be permanently damaged. RA can also cause uveitis, an inflammation of the area between the retina and the white of the eye, which, if not treated, could cause blindness.
Dryness. The inflammatory process that affects the joints can also damage the tear-producing glands, a condition known as Sjögren’s syndrome. The result is eyes that feel dry and gritty. Artificial tears, which are available over the counter, as well as medications your doctor prescribes, can keep eyes more comfortable and help prevent damage related to dryness.
Drug effects. Corticosteroids may cause glaucoma and cataracts. Hydroxychloroquine, in rare cases, causes pigment changes in the retina that can lead to vision loss. As a rule, people with RA should get eye checkups at least once a year