Can Rheumatoid Arthritis Affect Muscles?

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  1. Over time, muscle weakness could be severe enough to ruin your daily activities. You may find it difficult to climb stairs or get up from a chair. Even you may not be able to comb your hair or just to pick up a cup of tea. If your neck is affected, you may need more effort just to hold your head up.
  2. If the disease affects your esophagus muscles, you can have dysphagia (difficulty swallowing). This can put you at high risk of malnutrition.
  3. Your dysphagia will also make you breathe liquids /foods (including saliva) into your respiratory system. This may lead to aspiration pneumonia.
  4. It’s also possible for the disease to affect your lung’s muscles, causing a number of breathing problems.
  5. And late in the disease, deposits of calcium can form in the muscles and connective tissues. This is especially true if you’ve had the disease for many years.



Like polymyositis, dermatomyositis is also an autoimmune disease that can be associated with other autoimmune conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

Still, muscle weakness is also the main symptom of dermatomyositis. It usually involves the muscles of the trunk such as the shoulders, thighs, upper arms, hips, and neck. It is more likely to affect both sides of the body, too.

Interestingly, it often causes distinctive skin rash. This violet-colored, skin rash is commonly found on eyelids and face. Sometimes the rash also occurs on areas around the knuckles, knees, back, chest, elbows, and nails.

So dermatomyositis can affect both your muscles and skin. It is progressive condition, meaning it tends to gradually worsen over time. Although there is still no cure, some treatments are available to help provide periods of remission.


It is an inflammation of the heart muscles, especially for the middle layer of your heart called myocardium. The damage can affect both your heart muscle cells and electrical system. As a result, you can have a decline in your heart function and heart rhythms.

In mild cases, there is usually no noticeable symptom. But as the damage becomes advanced, the symptoms include chest discomfort (pain), arrhythmias (abnormal /rapid heart rhythms), shortness of breath, tiredness (fatigue), and symptoms of fluid retention (swelling of the feet, legs, or ankles). Sometimes it may also cause body aches, fever, diarrhea, sore throat, or headache.

Myocarditis can be associated with RA, though it’s a rare complication. Other possible causes include certain medications, radiation /chemical exposure, and infections caused by virus, bacteria, fungus, or parasites.

What else?
  1. Muscle spasm. Sometimes joint pain caused by RA can be painful enough to affect the muscles surrounding the affected joint, leading to muscle spasm (see more in here).
  2. Muscle strain, a condition in which the muscle is overstretched /torn, is also quite common in people with RA. It can occur when the muscles around the affected joint are overworked when attempting to support /protect the joint from the painful movements.

It seems that rheumatoid arthritis can affect your muscles in several ways. But with prompt treatment, you should be able to live normal and have an average expected lifespan!

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