Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory disease that causes pain, weakness and malformation of the joints. Early rheumatoid arthritis tends to first affect the small joints in the hands and feet. As the disease progresses, symptoms often spread to the knees, ankles, elbows, hips and shoulders. Long-term inflammation can cause general changes to the skin’s texture, color and durability, and acute skin lesions and infections may also arise. The goal of rheumatoid arthritis skin treatment is to control symptoms and prevent complications.
The incidence of rheumatoid arthritis is typically two to three times higher in women than men. The onset of rheumatoid arthritis, in both women and men, is highest among those in their sixties.
General Skin Symptoms
Rheumatoid arthritis can cause a variety of changes to the skin. Commonly, the skin becomes thin, wrinkled and fragile (skin atrophy), which can lead to easy bruising. The skin on the back of the hands can turn pale in color and even appear translucent.
Rheumatoid arthritis can also progress to vasculitis conditions. When vasculitis involves the small arteries and veins that nourish the skin of the fingertips and skin around the nails, small pits in the fingertips or small sores causing pain and redness around the nails can occur. Involvement of somewhat larger arteries and veins of the skin can cause a painful red rash that often involves the legs. If the skin is very inflamed, ulcers can occur and infection becomes a complicating risk.
Vasculitis is an inflammatory process affecting the vessel wall and leading to its compromise or destruction and subsequent hemorrhagic and ischemic events. Cutaneous vasculitis manifests most frequently as palpable purpura or infiltrated erythema indicating dermal superficial, small-vessel vasculitis. Nodular erythema, livedo racemosa, deep ulcers, or digital gangrene implicates deep dermal or subcutaneous, muscular-vessel vasculitis.
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