Skip to Accessibility Tools Skip to Content Skip to Footer
Would You Like  Something With That RA, Ma’am?

Would You Like Something With That RA, Ma’am?

You’d think all the problems that rheumatoid arthritis causes—the pain, disability, fatigue, fevers, and that general, all-around cruddy feeling—would be enough.

Unfortunately, you’d be wrong. It turns out there’s a whole slew of other diseases and conditions, referred to as “comorbidities,” that those of us who’re coping with this RA need to watch out for, too. It seems that once you have RA, you’re far more likely to get these, as well.

RA diagnosis

When my doctor diagnosed me with RA 27 years ago, I had no real understanding of the disease. I could barely believe I had arthritis, let alone that I was now in very real danger of getting other nasty diseases and conditions because I had it. I can’t recall him saying anything about RA’s comorbidities, either. I didn’t find out about them until 17 years later.

I’d been out on a long walk on a local, 10-mile-long nature trail with my little dog, Finny. I’ll admit I probably walked too far—about six miles, total—when I really wasn’t used to it. But the spring-like day had been bright and cool and way too pretty to waste. The wild lands on both sides of the trail were beautiful.

On the way back, still about a mile from my car, my hip suddenly started feeling odd, like it was about to slide out of its socket. It hurt a little, too, but didn’t feel like the flares in my hips I’d had during the first several years after diagnosis. Those had been truly horrific. They’d come on suddenly, the pain ramping up to nearly unbearable in minutes, then remaining that way for two to four days. Those flares were crippling. Devastating.

This pain wasn’t like that. It only hurt, mildly, in that strange, elongated moment when my leg felt like it was coming loose. Then the feeling would wane. Walking carefully and much, much more slowly, afraid of falling, I made it back to my car and home.

In the weeks following, I’d get that same odd feeling—without warning—in my hip joint now and then. I was also feeling a mean, insistent, deep ache in both hips when I was in bed at night. It forced me to change positions all night long, waking me repeatedly. I dreaded and feared the possible return of those long ago hip-flares.

It turned out that rheumatoid disease wasn’t what was causing my hip pain. At least, not directly. My rheumatologist identified it as trochanteric, or hip, bursitis. The bursa is a small, oval-shaped sac of fluid that cushions and protects the hip joint. In bursitis, the bursa becomes inflamed, which causes it to be tender and often, very painful.

“Did my walking cause it?” I asked. Finny and I had really enjoyed those walks, and we missed them. The idea that we’d have to stop doing them bummed me out.

He shook his head. While overuse can cause bursitis, usually in joggers and serious hikers, he said he didn’t think that was what caused mine. Instead, he felt it had appeared as a comorbidity of my rheumatoid disease.

RA comorbitities

Trochanteric bursitis—indeed, all types of bursitis—is a common comorbidity, he explained. The inflammation RA causes is systemic, meaning that it occurs throughout the body, not just in the joint capsules and around the joints. It attacks soft tissues like the bursae, too—and the connective tissues like tendons, ligaments, and cartilage. Since that first attack of chronic bursitis (it has never gone away, but comes and goes mysteriously), I’ve also developed lateral epicondylitis—also known as tennis elbow. It’s a type of tendinitis, and I didn’t get it playing tennis.

The system inflammation of rheumatoid disease can be far more serious, though. It can attack the lining of the heart, causing heart disease that precipitates heart attacks and strokes. That people with RA often become overweight or obese because joint pain prevents them from moving well and exercising doesn’t help.

The lining of the lungs can become inflamed, too, causing pleurisy. RA and some of the medications used to treat it, like methotrexate and corticosteroids, can scar the lungs, too. Rheumatoid nodules—bumps or lumps that may form beneath the skin of the elbows or knees—can also form inside the lungs, as well. These can cause obstruction and a condition known as rheumatoid lung.

Then there’s rheumatoid vasculitis. The blood vessels anywhere in the body can become inflamed, causing them to narrow and weaken, sometimes to the point of stopping blood flow to organs and limbs.

Other comorbitities

Other comorbidities of RA include Sjogren’s syndrome, which causes drying of the eyes and mucous membranes; Raynaud’s Phenomenon, a disorder of the blood vessels that supply the skin; Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a type of blood cancer that’s two to four times riskier for people with RA than those without the disease. Some drugs used to treat RA—methotrexate and some biologic disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs)—can also increase the risk of contracting lymphoma.

Finally, those with RA are more prone to infections because of its constant high level of systemic inflammation. In addition, several of the drugs that suppress the immune system in order to slow or stop the progress of RA also make it harder for the body to fight off infections.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve had about enough of all this. Have you experienced any of the comorbidities of rheumatoid arthritis?

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • pearson0501
    2 years ago

    God bless you all

  • tckrd
    2 years ago

    Yes I do:
    Tennis elbow
    Ankylosing spondylitus
    Nodules in lungs

  • Khadra Rissler
    5 years ago

    Along with RA I have

    Resistant high BP
    Diabetes II
    Vitamin D deficiency

    It has been a lifelong struggle since age 5.

  • Betsy Mulder
    5 years ago

    I have a laundry list of illnesses along with the RA.
    I have bursitis in my feet the podiatrist said. I was recently diagnosed with Costochondritis (inflammation of ribcage). I have had 3 bouts of lymphoma (NHL)
    Also, Crohns and severe dry eye syndrome, fibromyalgia and depression.
    I also describe feeling an all ’round cruddy feeling.

  • Corinne
    5 years ago

    I had Raynaud’s and bursitis in both hips prior to being diagnosed with RA. At one point I became extremely weak and could barely walk. Blood tests found anemia….and then finally I found a doc who said…you know, all of this could add up to RA! He sent me to a rheumatologist, and there you go. It was comforting, in a way, to know there was a reason for those years of aches and pains. But I would love to go back to all those doctors who patted me on the head and told me to go home, lose weight and take Advil…oh well, water under the bridge now….

  • Trish
    5 years ago

    Rheumatoid Arthritis,
    Focal Segmental Glomerulosclerosis (FSGS),
    ANCA Vasculitis,
    Rheumatoid tendinitis,
    Vitamin D deficiency,
    Sjogren’s syndrome,
    Carpal tunnel syndrome

    These are just the *current* “condiments” that accompany my primary diagnosis of RA.

    Thank you so much for sharing this entry. I plan to share it with my friends and loved ones to help them better understand this disease and me.

  • Casseniette
    5 years ago

    Glad to see this. I have developed bursitis in my hips, knees, and shoulders. Monday I was told I have plantar fasciitis in my feet. Got a shot and it took three days to begin to feel better. Whenever I ask my rheumatologist if these things are from the RA, he says no, but I do not believe him. So, glad to see this. Always good to know that I, we are not alone in this.

  • Davee Jones
    5 years ago

    Yes, I have Sjogrens. I also have problems with strange symmetrical swelling below each knee, top of each wrist, and now just below my ankle bones. I also have sleep apnea, high bp- controlled with medication, carpal tunnel syndrome, degenerative discs, bladder spasms, migraines (better with sulfazine), and osteopenia. I will be 45 in May. I was doing triathlons three years ago, it’s depressing sometimes.

  • Wren moderator author
    5 years ago

    Hi Davee,
    It sounds like you’ve been handed a full platter of ills. I’m so sorry. I once had an odd, hard swelling over and above the ulnar side of my right wrist; it turned out to be a pannus caused by the synovial fluid thickening, bursting through the synovial capsule, and hardening. It finally had to be surgically removed before it could impair my wrist and fingers. Keep a close eye on those.

    Thank you for taking the time to comment. Wishing you the best.

  • Teresa Perret
    5 years ago

    You could be telling my story with the bursitis and tendonitis except my first experience with the burse was on my thigh and it was miserable. And I actually had to go to a hand therapist to get my grip back after a bad flare of tennis elbow. I’ve also developed the hip bursitis in the last few years…good times!

  • Wren moderator author
    5 years ago

    Hi, Teresa,
    Man, bursitis and tendinitis are aggravating, aren’t they? Annoying, painful, and disabling, and there’s not a whole lot they can do for them beyond steroid shots and physical therapy. Fortunately, both do often help, but the conditions tend to be chronic, so they’ll be back. Thanks, RD!

    Thank goodness you were able to get your grip back! When I first heard of it, “bursitis” made me think of ol’ Grandpa McCoy, gimping around and complaining about his “dad-burned bursitis!” What I didn’t realize was how truly painful, disabling, and frustrating it could be.

    Thank you for stopping by and for commenting. Hang in there! And do come back soon. 🙂

  • joanne
    5 years ago

    You have said exactly what I am feeling so well. I have Sjogren’s, I take restatis, but watching those happy people on the commercials just makes me angry. My eyes are so dry and itchy, it makes daily life miserable.
    A year ago I tore my right rotocuff, Once I finally was operated on, I was told, not only was my rotocuff torn, but so was the tendon and the ligament on the inside of my right arm. I am four months into my recovery and yeaerday my rhemotologist did and ultrasound and I have severe bursitis in the ligament. I had a steriod shot in that tendon that made me see stars. Thank goodness for a place where I can read that I am not going through this journey alone.

  • Wren moderator author
    5 years ago

    Hi, Joanne! I’m really glad you found us! It’s a nice bunch of people who hang out around here, and we really do “feel your pain.” 😉 Sorry, I couldn’t resist…

    My eyes are often dry and burn-y, and my skin is quite dry, as well. Last time I saw my rheumy, he said he I have dry-eye syndrome, but it’s no Sjogren’s. Fingers are crossed it will stay that way–I can only imagine how miserable that constant irritation and pain must be for you.

    And it’s not like you needed that bursitis too, is it. You’ve been through the wringer. I hope the injection and continued PT will help get that shoulder back to as normal as it can be, and the bursitis under good control, and soon.

    I’m glad you stopped in and commented. Please come back and check in again! 😀

  • Carla Kienast
    5 years ago

    Ah, yes, I have large, heaping helpings of Sjogren’s and Raynaud’s to go along with my RA. (And now elevated liver enzymes due to the side effects of the drugs.) Kind of like adding insult to injury. 🙂 Thanks for the great article and the reminder that RA is a systemic disease that invites its friends over to party.

  • Wren moderator author
    5 years ago

    Hi, Carla!
    Good to hear from you again! Except … jeez. What a shame it has to be because of RD comorbidities. This is one party I think we’d all be glad not to have been invited to. Thanks for the stop-by! Sending a hug! 🙂

  • KarenG.
    5 years ago

    Thanks for your article. I have – or had – the same feeling in both hips, primarily on the right side. Earlier this year, I was visiting the rheumatologist’s above severe pain in my left hip… Injections, advised to go to physical therapy, more meds, no relief. An MRI found a stress fracture, in the femur bone. Several weeks later, I was walking, and heard a pop, and I went down. I broke my left leg, at or close to the stress fracture….. All of this to say, be persistent and let the doctors know when something’s not right – I was having my usual symptoms of bursitis, and it was a stress fracture.

  • Wren moderator author
    5 years ago

    Oh, Karen! Your femur just … broke? Just like that? You poor thing. I’ve heard of stress fractures, of course, but I had no idea how bad they had the potential to be. Have you been checked for osteopenia/osteoporosis?

    You’re absolutely right that we can’t treat symptoms lightly. “Oh, it’s just bursitis.” And then… crack. Thank you so much for sharing your story and giving us a heads-up. I hope you’ll stop back by again soon and let us know how you’re doing. 🙂

  • Karen
    5 years ago

    A few years before I was diagnosed with RA, I was milking a goat. I leaned up off my stool and quickly set back down. One of the barn cats had jumped up on the stool, unknown to me, I jumped. The cat jumped. The goat jumped. The milk went flying.

    My son finished milking the goats. My husband took me to the ER, the pain was so bad. Try explaining that to the ER staff. They were too busy laughing to do anything. And of course you have to explain what happened over and over again.

    I have bursitis in both hips now. The right hip has never forgiven me for milking the goat, with the cats help. The cat and the goat have no sympathy.

    And I still get the laughter when explain how I did my hip in.

    PS it was the pulmonologist that did not like the look of my hands and referred me to the rheumy, so yes I have other sides with my main dish.

  • Wren moderator author
    5 years ago

    Karen! WOW! Now THAT’S a story!
    I once wrote a newspaper story about a man who kept milch goats and made county-fair award-winning cheese. He demonstrated the hand milking process, and it did look a bit precarious, what with the little raised platform and all. (I was extra-charmed by the goats, though. I love their grins.) All of which is to say that as I read your account of your bursitis onset (!!) I could “see” the whole mishap rolling out in slow motion in my imagination. 😀

    I’m so sorry you ended up with bursitis in both hips because of it, though. It’s a rather cruel reward for such a silly accident of fate. I hope you’re getting adequate treatment for it now, and for your RD. Thanks for taking the time to tell us your story. I hope you’ll be back, soon. 😀

    PS: I hope you’ll forgive me for laughing. You tell a great story!

  • Poll