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What Are Rheumatoid Nodules?

Appearance and Significance of Rheumatoid Nodules

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Updated May 16, 2014

Rheumatoid Nodules
Steve Sucsy Collection/Photographer's Choice/Getty Images

As part of the disease process, firm, non-tender, subcutaneous nodules develop in about 25% of rheumatoid arthritis patients. Rheumatoid nodules are typically found at pressure points. Common sites include the elbow, back of the forearm, and metacarpophalangeal joints (knuckles). They usually develop when rheumatoid arthritis is active. Rheumatoid nodules are commonly associated with joint deformity and serious extra-articular manifestations of rheumatoid arthritis, which may include involvement of the lungs, eyes, and blood vessels. Rheumatoid nodules may vary in size during the course of the disease process.

Rheumatoid nodules may be associated with complications, including:

  • pain
  • limited joint mobility
  • neuropathy
  • ulceration
  • fistula formation
  • infection

Surgical removal is an option, but nodules tend to recur in as little as a few months when they are present over an area of repeated trauma. Intranodular steroid injections may reduce the size of a nodule.

Photos of Actual Rheumatoid Nodules

  • Arthritis Hand Photo Gallery
    Hand damage and deformity caused by arthritis can include nodules, swelling, stiffness, ulnar drift, contractures, and other problems.

Sources:

Interview with Raymond Federman, M.D. (rheumatologist)

Case rounds. Case report #6 by Andrea Marx, M.D., The Johns Hopkins University.

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