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Untreated Rheumatoid Arthritis: What Are the Dangers?

Gentle aches within the short-term might look like no massive deal, however rheumatoid arthritis can result in everlasting injury and main issues if left untreated for too lengthy.

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) It’s an inflammatory autoimmune illness that primarily assaults the joints, however can influence different methods all through the physique, too. In the event you assume you might be experiencing signs of RA, like joint ache, swelling, and morning stiffness, these aren’t issues to brush apart. That is as a result of, untreated, RA can result in severe issues that may go away you disabled. RA may even be life-threatening, say specialists. Study extra concerning the short- and long-term results of leaving RA untreated, together with why getting the fitting remedy is so vital.

Brief-Time period Results of Untreated Rheumatoid Arthritis

Even in its early phases, rheumatoid arthritis can lead to signs that may disrupt your every day life, together with struggles with easy duties like opening jars, buttoning garments, or gripping objects. “Ache, decreased high quality of life, and impaired actions of every day dwelling are all short-term penalties of leaving RA untreated,” says rheumatologist Mahsa Tehrani, MD, co-founder of Arthritis and Rheumatology Medical Middle of Northern Virginia in Vienna.

Early signs of RA might embrace issues like ache or stiffness within the small joints in your fingers or toes, or ache in a bigger joint like your knee, in response to the Cleveland Clinic. Whereas at first these pains might really feel like one thing you’ll be able to ignore or handle by yourself, they’re truly warning indicators to get remedy ASAP.

“When you’ve got joint ache, particularly swelling and stiffness in your fingers and your wrists that lasts a couple of hour, ensure you instantly see your main care supplier or rheumatologist,” urges Alireza Meysami, MD, a rheumatologist at Henry Ford Medical Middle in Detroit, MI. “If we see this symptom of irritation of the small joints, the purpose is to begin remedy as quickly as doable.”

Lengthy-Time period Results of Untreated Rheumatoid Arthritis

The longer you permit rheumatoid arthritis untreated, the better the prospect it can lead to extra extreme signs and issues. “Leaving RA untreated can ultimately result in irreversible joint injury and incapacity,” Dr. Tehrani says.

Everlasting bone injury or bone erosion can start to happen within the impacted joints inside simply eight weeks of preliminary symptom onset, says Dr. Meysami. “If that occurs to the bone—which is [essentially] irritation taking a piece of bone misplaced—then that leads to everlasting ache,” he says. Erosion can result in a lack of operate within the long-term and incapacity that would influence your skill to work or sustain with different actions which are vital to you. Bone injury may also result in a lack of bone density, growing your danger of osteoporosis, in response to the Nationwide Institutes of Well being.

As a result of RA is a systemic illness, physique methods past the joints might turn into concerned, too, together with the immune system, the musculoskeletal system, and the cardiovascular system. Fortunately, most of those aren’t tremendous widespread, says Dr. Tehrani—however they will turn into extra doubtless the longer you go with out RA remedy.

Problems of RA That Go Past Joints

Another areas which may be affected over time—as a result of irritation related to rheumatoid arthritis—embrace the next:


Irritation within the eyes can result in ache, dryness, blurred imaginative and prescient, mild sensitivity, and scarring, in response to the Arthritis Basis. RA may also trigger irritation within the space between the retina and white of the attention referred to as uveitis, which may trigger blindness if left untreated. Even dryness, the most typical eye-related symptom, could make your eyes extra vulnerable to an infection or injury to the cornea, per the Mayo Clinic.


Whereas it could appear shocking, RA could cause some stage of influence on the lungs for as much as 80% of individuals with the situation, in response to the Arthritis Basis. Fortunately, it is normally not extreme sufficient to trigger signs, but when RA irritation is left untreated for a very long time, it could actually turn into extreme and result in lung illness that may influence respiratory.

Coronary heart

If irritation is current for a very long time, it could actually injury blood vessels, which will increase your danger of coronary heart illness and different cardiovascular points One 2021 examine experiences that individuals with RA had a 21% greater danger of coronary heart assault than the final inhabitants.

Pores and skin

Irritation could cause modifications to the pores and skin as effectively, Dr. Meysami says. For instance, half of individuals with RA ultimately get what is known as a rheumatoid nodule, which is a normally painful lump underneath the pores and skin. Rashes can also happen in some individuals.

Individuals with RA additionally might have a decrease life expectancy by about 10 years if the illness goes untreated, Dr. Meysami says. All in all, these potential issues underscore the significance of getting your rheumatoid arthritis underneath management as quickly as you’ll be able to.

Early RA Remedy and Medicine Choices

The specialists agree: It is vital to get began on an efficient remedy for RA quick to forestall long-term bone injury, lack of mobility, and different extreme issues.

“When bone erosion occurs, the practice has already left the station—it is too late,” Dr. Meysami says. “So we try to keep away from that, which is why the purpose of rheumatology is to begin sufferers on the proper remedy inside eight weeks of onset to keep away from bone erosion.”

So even should you really feel like your ache is not that unhealthy, getting related to a rheumatologist who can put you on a rheumatoid arthritis remedy is a vital step. Remedy helps to scale back irritation all through the physique, in flip relieving signs. A few of the major drugs used to deal with RA embrace the next, per the Johns Hopkins Arthritis Middle:

Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Medication (NSAIDs)

These medicine may be useful in lowering ache ranges. Nonetheless, they do not deal with the illness itself, which suggests taking them on their very own nonetheless places you susceptible to illness development and long-term injury. “Too many over-the-counter ache drugs are a band-aid and never an actual, long-term remedy,” Dr. Tehrani says. “They usually could cause negative effects like hypertension, kidney negative effects, and GI bleeds.”


Steroids like prednisone may be useful for early-stage RA to assist get irritation underneath management. That stated, these aren’t supreme for long-term use as a result of potential for negative effects.

Illness Modifying Anti-Rheumatic Medication (DMARDs)

DMARDs, like methotrexate, sulfasalazine, tumor necrosis issue inhibitors, and others (together with biologics), are the best class of RA medicine rheumatologists have of their arsenal. They assist gradual the course of the illness and forestall long-term injury.

The Backside Line About Untreated RA

Getting immediate analysis and remedy for rheumatoid arthritis is essential: “This can be a illness that, if left untreated in the long run, may even be life-threatening,” Dr. Meysami says.

In the event you assume you are experiencing signs of RA, discuss to your physician. “As quickly as RA is suspected, it’s best to see a physician about your signs, since early analysis and remedy yields higher long-term outcomes,” Dr. Tehrani says. Your main care supplier can refer you to a rheumatologist who will help diagnose RA—by issues like blood assessments and x-rays—and get you the remedy you’ll want to get you into remission. Better of all, when RA is effectively managed with remedy, you’ll be able to sustain with the life you like for a few years to come back.

Lara DeSanto

Meet Our Author

Lara DeSanto

Lara is a well being author, trauma-informed artwork therapist, and registered affiliate marriage and household therapist practising in Los Angeles. She can also be a former digital editor for HealthCentral, overlaying Sexual Well being, Digestive

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