Rheumatoid arthritis is probably most widely known for attacking the joints, leaving joint-related disability as its hallmark. However, many people may not realize that RA doesn’t just affect the joints. It is an inflammatory autoimmune disease that also causes complications in many organ systems and tissues throughout the body, including the heart, blood vessels, lungs, bones, eyes, skin, kidneys, salivary glands and nerve tissue.
According to the Mayo Clinic, approximately 40 percent of people with RA have signs and symptoms that don’t involve the joints.
Of all the non-joint-related complications of RA, cardiovascular disease is the most serious. It is the leading cause of death in both men and women in the U.S., and people with RA have twice the risk of most cardiovascular-related problems compared with the general population, including heart attack, strokes and atherosclerosis – hardening of the arteries caused by the buildup of plaque on the inner walls of the blood vessels. The risk of heart failure is also increased.