Rheumatoid arthritis: Can it affect the lungs?

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Rheumatoid arthritis: Can it affect the lungs?

Question

Can rheumatoid arthritis affect your lungs?

Kim
Canada

Answer

Although rheumatoid arthritis primarily affects joints, it can also affect your lungs. In fact, lung problems from rheumatoid arthritis sometimes surface before joint problems. The most common lung problems associated with rheumatoid arthritis include:

  • Painful breathing. Rheumatoid arthritis can cause inflammation of the lining of the lungs (pleurisy). The inflammation can cause sharp pain while breathing.
  • Shortness of breath. Fluid due to inflammation of the lining of the lungs may accumulate around the lungs (pleural effusion). This accumulation can cause shortness of breath.
  • Lung nodules. Small lumps may form in the lungs (rheumatoid nodules), as well as in other parts of the body. Lung nodules usually cause no signs or symptoms, and they don't pose a risk of lung cancer. In some cases, however, a nodule can rupture and cause a collapsed lung.
  • Scarring of the lungs. Rheumatoid arthritis can lead to scarring within the lungs. Signs and symptoms may include shortness of breath, chronic dry cough, fatigue, weakness and loss of appetite.

Contact your doctor promptly if you have rheumatoid arthritis and experience any unexplained breathing problems. Sometimes treatment is aimed at the underlying rheumatoid arthritis. In other cases, treatment involves medication to suppress the immune system or a procedure to remove fluid from the lungs.

Last Updated: 2010-08-07
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