Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder which results to chronic inflammation of the joints. Patients of rheumatoid arthritis experience several symptoms; anemia is one of the common symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis. About 60% of people with rheumatoid arthritis have anemia.
Anemia is usually caused by decreased number of blood cells in the body. Red blood cells are composed of hemoglobin and iron-rich proteins which transports oxygen from the lungs to other parts of the body. People who have anemia might sometimes have sufficient red blood cells but the cells contain abnormal hemoglobin.
When your body doesn’t have enough red blood cells your body organs will get less oxygen than they want. This will make you to experience fatigue and weakness. Anemia also causes you to have poor concentration, rapid heartbeat, headache and shortness of breath
The cause of anemia in patients of rheumatoid arthritis is anemia of chronic diseases (ACD). Anemia commonly occurs in most chronic illnesses such as rheumatoid arthritis. The cause of ACD is not yet known. The inflammation that is experienced by patients of rheumatoid arthritis is believed to be the cause of anemia. The tissues which are inflamed in the joints releases proteins that cause the body not to use iron to produce red blood cells resulting to low red blood count.
The drugs which are commonly used to treat rheumatoid arthritis such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and steroids can also trigger the development of anemia. These drugs can lead to chronic irritation which causes bleeding of the stomach lining. When there is loss of blood for a long period of time anemia occurs. Studies have shown that people who have anemia and rheumatoid arthritis will experience severe pain than people who have no anemia. You can discuss with your doctor so that you can know if you have anemia. This can be done by examining your blood count and changes in hemoglobin and hematocrit. The symptoms of anemia develop when anemia is moderate to severe.
Some of these symptoms include:
- Chest pain
- Pale skin
- Breathing problems
- Numbness of feet and hands
It is advisable to go for a check-up for anemia regularly if you have rheumatoid arthritis. If you have anemia there are several ways you can manage the condition. Use of injectable erythropoietin; a hormone that is involved in the production of red blood cells can help in managing anemia symptoms. Erythropoietin stimulates the bone marrow to produce iron and also helps in increasing the number of red blood cells
One disadvantage of the drugs is that it is expensive and the effects can be minimal.
Iron therapy can also be helpful to patients of rheumatoid arthritis who have low levels of iron in the blood. You should treat the inflammation of RA so as to manage anemia because anemia in rheumatoid arthritis patients does not respond well to treatment.
Managing the rheumatoid arthritis symptoms is the best way to address anemia. An effective treatment of rheumatoid arthritis will both help in improving the joint symptoms and anemia. Iron supplements can also be helpful to patients who have both rheumatoid arthritis and anemia. For the patients who have anemia of chronic disease, the treatment can be a bit complicated because the inflammation will have to be reduced first. This can be done by use of disease modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDS). You should be cautious when using these drugs, though effective they can also cause anemia. It is advisable to discuss with your physician before commencement of treatment using these drugs.
- Anemia causes. (2013, March 8) Mayo Clinic. Retrieved on January 2, 2014, from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/anemia/basics/causes/CON-20026209
- Anemia of chronic disease. (2012, February 7). Medline Plus. Retrieved on January 2, 2014, from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000565.htm
- Peeters HR, et al. Ann Rheum Dis. 1996;55:739-744