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What Is Rheumatoid Lung Disease?

Pulmonary (Lung) Abnormalities Can Occur With Rheumatoid Arthritis

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Updated June 27, 2014

Rheumatoid Lung Disease

Rheumatoid lung disease, as its name suggests, is associated with rheumatoid arthritis. Of the 1.3 million Americans who have rheumatoid arthritis, nearly half may have some abnormal lung function. Up to one-fourth develop rheumatoid lung disease.

Symptoms of Rheumatoid Lung Disease

Symptoms associated with rheumatoid lung disease which occur in addition to arthritic symptoms of joint pain, joint swelling, joint stiffness, and nodules include:

Diagnosis and Treatment of Rheumatoid Lung Disease

Procedures used to help diagnose rheumatoid lung disease include:

Currently there are no effective treatments for rheumatoid lung disease. Corticosteroids and immunosuppressive therapies help treat the complications.

In rheumatoid lung disease, the air sacs or alveoli of the lungs and their supporting structures become scarred by inflammation, resulting in impaired lung function.

Thoracic and Pulmonary Abnormalities Associated With Rheumatoid Lung Disease

The thoracic and pulmonary abnormalities associated with rheumatoid lung disease include:

Interstitial Lung Disease and Rheumatoid Arthritis

The most common manifestation of pulmonary disease in rheumatoid arthritis is interstitial lung disease (ILD). Patients with severe rheumatoid arthritis or patients who smoke are more likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis associated interstitial lung disease. A report by Dr. Jeffrey T. Chapman from the Cleveland Clinic Foundation details the prevalence, signs and symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment for ILD.

Findings reported in January 2005 by Mayo Clinic researchers suggest that rheumatoid lung disease may be "fundamentally different from other forms of lung disease", and possibly should be treated differently. Through advancements in computer-assisted image analysis, it may be possible to diagnose rheumatoid lung disease earlier and treat it aggressively as a disease of the immune system.

The Mayo Clinic research revealed an abundance of T cells known as CD4 and CD3 cells in rheumatoid lung disease tissue samples. These findings may impact the development of new, more effective drugs to treat rheumatoid lung disease. Drugs designed to block T cell action may ultimately allow for treatment of rheumatoid lung disease in its early stages -- possibly even prolonging lives -- important because Mayo Clinic research indicated rheumatoid arthritis which spreads beyond the joints to the lungs is more likely to be fatal.

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