Pulmonary fibrosis—scarring of the lungs—is a debilitating lung condition that is highly common in individuals with rheumatoid arthritis. Aside from their equally impactful, difficult-to-treat nature, scientists have not yet established a solid link between these health conditions. So, here we will be unpacking both conditions and then delving into the close relationship between the two.
Understanding Rheumatoid Arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis is one of the many forms of arthritis. In short, rheumatoid arthritis is a serious autoimmune disorder that results in chronic inflammation in the body, mostly the joints. The hallmark symptoms of arthritis include pain, irritation, inflammation, rigidity, and mobility issues.
Some patients also experience a fever, lethargy, and deformities. Rheumatoid arthritis is marked by a continuous cycle of flare-ups and remission periods. Even though rheumatoid arthritis is still incurable, it is treatable and manageable with medications, lifestyle adjustments, and supplementary natural remedies.
Understanding Pulmonary Fibrosis
Pulmonary fibrosis is a lung condition that causes scarring in the lungs. In pulmonary fibrosis, the lungs lose their capability to function normally, leading to trouble breathing.
Researchers have yet to identify the exact cause of pulmonary fibrosis, which is the reason the condition is often called idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. That said, there appears to be a strong correlation between numerous health conditions and the risk of pulmonary fibrosis. Some medications have also been linked to the development of pulmonary fibrosis.
The most common pulmonary fibrosis symptoms are fatigue, coughing, breathlessness, body pain, and unexplained weight loss. Every patient experiences these symptoms at varying levels of severity with different progression rates. Pulmonary fibrosis is primarily treated with medications, oxygen therapy, lung rehabilitation, and in some cases, a lung transplant.
The Connection: Rheumatoid Arthritis Pulmonary Fibrosis
As aforementioned, certain conditions can contribute to the development of pulmonary fibrosis, and rheumatoid arthritis appears to be one of these conditions. However, scientists have not yet pinpointed the exact connection between these two diseases. Regardless, numbers show that over 40% of patients with rheumatoid arthritis also end up suffering from pulmonary fibrosis.
Research suggests that the inflammation brought on by rheumatoid arthritis may be a contributing factor to the development of pulmonary fibrosis. In fact, a study has found a strong association between the presence of large numbers of rheumatoid arthritis antibodies and pulmonary fibrosis. Rheumatoid arthritis patients with a family history of pulmonary diseases and gastrointestinal reflux, as well as smokers and individuals on certain medications, run a higher risk of developing pulmonary fibrosis.
While neither of these conditions has a cure, there are measures patients can take to improve their symptoms and lower the risk of life-threatening complications associated with the comorbidity of these conditions. Getting diagnosed early and an effective treatment protocol can go a long way in managing rheumatoid arthritis that is accompanied by pulmonary fibrosis.
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