Rheumatoid Arthritis affects several body systems, including the skin. This autoimmune disorder known for causing painful joint swelling, cartilage damage and bone erosion also wears on the skin — the largest organ of the human body.
Rheumatoid arthritis patients may notice the formation of small bumps, or nodules just under the skin. The nodules usually form near the joints, according to the National Institute of Arthritis and Muskoskeletal and Skin Diseases. Approximately one-fourth of those diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis will notice the formation of skin nodules.
Vasculitis and RA
During periods of joint inflammation caused by rheumatoid arthritis, the blood vessel walls in the skin may also become inflamed and cause vasculitis, according to the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics. An area of the skin may turn a purple color indicating a break in the blood vessels and bleeding under the skin. Rheumatoid arthritis patients can take oral or intravenous medications to reduce inflammation in the blood vessel walls.
“Generally, the things a dermatologist does to treat the surface of the skin, such as applying sunscreens and cortisosteroid-containing creams or ointments, generally does not help the more severe skin problems such as vasculitis that are seen in rheumatoid arthritis,” explains the University website.
Skin Lesions and Inflammation
When inflammation is present in the joints, the patient’s skin may reflect the heightened activity of the immune system by producing skin lesions. This type of rheumatoid arthritis related skin ulcer usually forms in areas of vasculitic activity, according to EMedicineHealth online.
Skin Cancer Risks for Rheumatoid Arthritis Patients
Some rheumatoid arthritis medications are linked to cancer. A 2005 study titled “Skin Cancer, Rheumatoid Arthritis, and Tumor Necrosis Factor Inhibitors” published in The Journal of Rheumatology confirms the use of the steroid Prednisone and tumor necrosis factor inhibitors to control the progress of rheumatoid arthritis increases a rheumatoid arthritis patient’s risk of developing non-melanoma skin cancer.
Sources and Suggested Further Reading:
National Institute of Arthritis and Muskoskeletal and Skin Diseases: What People With Rheumatoid Arthritis Need to Know About Osteoporosis
University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics: Skin Problems with Arthritis-Related Diseases
EMedicineHealth: Rheumatoid Arthritis
The Journal of Rheumatology: Skin Cancer, Rheumatoid Arthritis, and Tumor Necrosis Factor Inhibitors
National Institute of Arthritis and Muskoskeletal and Skin Diseases: Rheumatoid Arthritis
Mayo Clinic: Rheumatoid Arthritis