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Are Anemia and Rheumatoid Arthritis Related?

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) affects the joints. It is a systemic autoimmune disease. Unfortunately if you have RA, your body is attacking its own tissue. It thinks that it is a foreign invader rather than an essential part of your system.

Man struggles with his rheumatoid arthritis symptoms

This results in your immune system attacking the cushion of fluid and tissue between your joints. You will probably experience:

  • Stiffness
  • Swelling
  • Pain

Not only can rheumatoid arthritis affect your joints, but also other soft tissues in the body. RA can unfortunately damage your:

  • Veins
  • Heart
  • Eyes

Rheumatoid arthritis can cause disability and permanent damage. It can cause anemia too, which is what we are going to cover in this article.

The short answer to the question, “Are Anemia and Rheumatoid arthritis related?” is “Yes.” Here are some of the ways the two conditions are linked.

Facts About Anemia

Did you know that “anemia” has Latin roots? It actually means “bloodlessness!” This is because having anemia decreases the amount of red blood cells that your body makes in its blood marrow. Sometimes your body will also produce insufficient amounts of hemoglobin. Hemoglobin is an iron-rich protein. It is what lets your red blood cells transport oxygen throughout your body.

The good news is that anemia is not often fatal, and there are things you can do to treat it. However if you do nothing about it, it can cause death in rare cases.

Types of Anemia

You may have heard someone say, “I have anemia” before, but did they mention which kind they had? Did you know that there are actually different types of anemia? They all have different causes too.

Woman feeling fatigued because she is iron-deficient

The types of anemia are:

  • Sickle cell anemia
  • Anemia from bone marrow disease
  • Aplastic anemia
  • Vitamin deficiency anemia

Some of these can be easily cured, and some unfortunately can not. Some forms of anemia can even be fatal.

Symptoms of Anemia

If you think you may have anemia, be on the lookout for the tell-tale symptoms, which include:

  • Cold hands or feet
  • Headaches
  • Pale skin
  • Weakness
  • Tiredness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain (this is because your heart has to work harder to pump your blood)

Sometimes you won’t get any symptoms at all! This is actually especially true for RA-related anemia.

Sometimes doctors will perform a physical exam to determine whether you have anemia. They can also use blood tests. These blood tests include:

  • Red blood cell count
  • Hemoglobin level test
  • Reticulocyte count
  • Serum ferritin
  • Serum Iron

Discerning the cause of your anemia will enable your doctor to start treating it. RA-related anemia is often treated simply by treating your RA and decreasing inflammation in the body.

Man's chest pain is a symptom of anemia

People who have low iron levels might benefit from iron supplements; however, don’t just go taking iron supplements on a whim. Too much iron can cause other serious medical issues.

Rheumatoid Arthritis & Anemia

One type of anemia can develop when you have Rheumatoid arthritis or another chronic inflammatory disease. RA can also be associated with iron deficiency anemia and aplastic anemia.

As mentioned earlier, the inflammation associated with RA lowers the amount of red blood cells that your body can produce. However, the inflammation can also affect your erythropoietin levels. Erythropoietin is a hormone that controls the production of red blood cells.

Rheumatoid Arthritis Treatments & Anemia

Not only can RA and anemia be connected because of red blood cell production, but clinical research has shown that certain rheumatoid arthritis treatments can cause problems too.

You might be taking a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug, or NSAID to help with your pain and inflammation. NSAIDS include things like:

  • Ibuprofen
  • Naproxen
  • Acetaminophen

Doctor describes how anemia is connected with rheumatoid arthritisUnfortunately these treatments can sometimes cause bleeding ulcers in your stomach or digestive tract. The ulcers cause blood loss. The blood loss causes anemia. You can be treated with blood infusions to heal the ulcers.

NSAIDS can also damage your liver. Acetaminophen is especially bad when it comes to this. Your liver is where the iron from foods you eat is stored and released for later use, which is why this aspect of NSAIDS can affect your anemia as well. In addition to NSAIDS, you should be aware that disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs can cause liver damage and anemia as well.

As you can tell, Rheumatoid arthritis and anemia are very much related. Being aware of this is important as you treat your RA. Your doctor should require frequent blood tests if you are on an RA drug. Please consult with him or her if you have any questions!

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