Related complications if left untreated

If untreated, rheumatoid arthritis can lead to related complications.

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Related Complications If Left Untreated

Dr. Irwin Lim
Rheumatologist

Rheumatoid arthritis is however much more than a joint disease. It is a systemic disease. Many patients feel unwell with this disease. They may not be able to say exactly why but they often talk about fatigue. They may have fevers sometimes and the disease can also affect other organs such as the eyes, the chest, and the heart.

Dr. Samuel Whittle
Rheumatologist, The Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Adelaide

If rheumatoid arthritis is left untreated, in the majority of people it will continue to progress, so people will experience ongoing inflammation of the joints which they will experience as joint pain and swelling and stiffness. Often untreated rheumatoid arthritis will begin to involve other joints that hadn’t been involved previously and ultimately our biggest fear in people with untreated rheumatoid arthritis is that the persistent inflammation in the joints can lead to damage to the joints. Once damage has occurred, this is irreversible and for this reason we are very keen to stop the inflammation and treat the disease before any damage occurs.

Assoc. Professor Peter Youssef
Rheumatologist, Royal Prince Alfred Institute of Rheumatology and Orthopaedics, Sydney
Chair – Arthritis Australia Scientific Advisory Committee

It is important to treat rheumatoid arthritis because in the absence of treatment, patients will develop joint damage and they may develop deformities in their joints. They will lose their function and it may affect their ability to work and in the more severe cases it can affect life expectancy.

Dr. Marina Kang
General Practitioner

In general practise especially, I had the opportunity to see the really old patients who’ve had the arthritis all their life and they do get the deformity and they do really suffer terribly from the aches and the pains still at this stage because of the joint damage. Whereas now if we can introduce patients to the appropriate medications we shouldn’t really be seeing the effects that it has on the older ones we see now. So that really is what’s so powerful about getting patients to be aware of the condition, to get early treatment, then their lives – their working lives, their travelling lives – their enjoyment in life is minimally affected because of the new available effective treatments and approaches.

Assoc. Professor Peter Youssef
Rheumatologist, Royal Prince Alfred Institute of Rheumatology and Orthopaedics, Sydney
Chair – Arthritis Australia Scientific Advisory Committee

It’s also important to remember that many patients with rheumatoid arthritis will get cardiovascular disease such as ischaemic heart disease. It is very important to treat the risk factors for cardiac disease in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. This is one of the causes of reduced life expectancy.

Dr. Samuel Whittle
Rheumatologist, The Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Adelaide

Untreated rheumatoid arthritis is probably associated with a reduction in life span. We know that people with rheumatoid arthritis who have ongoing inflammation that isn’t adequately treated do tend to get cardiovascular disease a few years earlier than they would otherwise get it. And this can lead to a reduction in lifespan. So this is something that we have begun to take very seriously over the last few years and we now know that if we treat rheumatoid arthritis with the appropriate treatments and get the inflammation under control and also pay attention to other cardiovascular risk factors like cholesterol and high blood pressure, that we can now restore people’s life expectancy back to normal.

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