Rheumatoid lung disease is a group of lung problems related to rheumatoid arthritis. The condition can include:
Blockage of the small airways (bronchiolitis obliterans)
Fluid in the chest (pleural effusions)
High blood pressure in the lungs (pulmonary hypertension)
Lumps in the lungs (nodules)
Scarring (pulmonary fibrosis)
Lung disease - rheumatoid arthritis; Rheumatoid nodules; Rheumatoid lung
Lung problems are common in rheumatoid arthritis. They often cause no symptoms.
The cause of lung disease associated with rheumatoid arthritis is unknown. Sometimes, the medicines used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, especially methotrexate, may result in lung disease.
Symptoms may include any of the following:
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Joint swelling
- Skin nodules
Exams and Tests
The doctor may hear crackles (rales) when listening to the lungs with a stethoscope. Or, there may be decreased breath sounds, wheezing, a rubbing sound, or normal breath sounds.
The following tests may show signs of rheumatoid lung disease:
- Chest x-ray
- CT scan of the chest
- Echocardiogram (may show pulmonary hypertension)
- Lung biopsy (bronchoscopic, video-assisted, or open)
- Lung function tests
- Needle inserted into the fluid around the lung (thoracentesis)
- Blood tests for rheumatoid arthritis
Many people with this condition have no symptoms. Treatment is aimed at the health problems causing the lung problem and the complications caused by the disorder. Corticosteroids or other medicines that suppress the immune system are sometimes useful.
Outcome is related to the underlying disorder and the type and severity of lung disease. In severe cases, lung transplantation can be considered.
Rheumatoid lung disease may lead to:
- Pulmonary hypertension
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call your health care provider right away if you have rheumatoid arthritis and you develop unexplained breathing difficulties.
Corte TJ, duBois RM, Wells AU. Connective tissue diseases. In: Broaddus VC, Mason RJ, Ernst JD, et al, eds. Murray and Nadel's Textbook of Respiratory Medicine. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 65.
Lake F, Proudman S. Rheumatoid arthritis and lung disease: from mechanisms to a practical approach. Semin Respir Crit Care Med. 2014;35:222-238. PMID: 24668537 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24668537.
- Last reviewed on 6/22/2015
- Denis Hadjiliadis, MD, MHS, Associate Professor of Medicine, Pulmonary, Allergy, and Critical Care, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
A.D.A.M., Inc. is accredited by URAC, also known as the American Accreditation HealthCare Commission (www.urac.org). URAC's accreditation program is the first of its kind, requiring compliance with 53 standards of quality and accountability, verified by independent audit. A.D.A.M. is among the first to achieve this important distinction for online health information and services. Learn more about A.D.A.M.'s editorial process. A.D.A.M. is also a founding member of Hi-Ethics (www.hiethics.com) and subscribes to the principles of the Health on the Net Foundation (www.hon.ch).
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. Copyright 2002 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.