Can Rheumatoid Arthritis Cause Gastrointestinal Issues?

Medically Reviewed on 10/21/2022
Rheumatoid Arthritis Cause Gastrointestinal Issues
RA can affect the gastrointestinal (GI) system, leading to symptoms such as nausea, indigestion, and abdominal pain.

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic systemic autoimmune disorder characterized by pain, stiffness, and swollen joints (hallmark signs of RA).

Studies have reported that some people with RA are at a high risk of other autoimmune conditions, such as:

Researchers speculate that people with RA are about 70 percent more likely to develop a gastrointestinal problem (both upper and lower) including stomach ulcers, bleeding, obstructions, and perforations than those without RA.

How does RA affect the GI system?

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic, inflammatory disease that particularly affects the joints. However, it can also affect the gastrointestinal (GI) system producing symptoms such as nausea, indigestion, and abdominal pain.

Untreated RA may affect various GI organs including the mouth, throat, esophagus, stomach, small and large intestines, pancreas, and liver.

According to the Arthritis Foundation, people with RA are about 70percent more prone to develop GI problems than those without RA. 

This may occur due to:

  • Smoking
  • Stress
    • Can be a driving force for the earlier onset and disease progress activity by promoting a proinflammatory state in the body.
  • Obesity
    • Additional weight can increase the risk of many health problems, including GI conditions; excess fat tissue releases cytokines—proteins that can cause or worsen inflammation.
  • Use of medications
  • Prior GI disease
  • History of abdominal surgery
    • Abdominal surgical procedures for the liver, pancreas, and GI cancer can lead to complications such as decreased GI tract motility, wound dehiscence, or hernia.
  • An increased risk of infection
    • Drugs used to treat RA may help calm overactive immune systems, but they can lower the body’s ability to fight infection, which results in bacterial infections such as diverticulitis or infectious colitis.
  • Chronic inflammation in the body
  • Untreated RA
    • RA also attacks other organs in the body including the lungs, eyes, and stomach. If RA is left untreated, about five percent of patients may develop a condition called rheumatoid vasculitis (inflammation and narrowing of blood vessels) that causes inflammation in the GI tract.


What Is Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA)? Symptoms, Treatment, Diagnosis See Slideshow

What are the signs and symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis?

The most common signs and symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis (RA) include:

  • Pain, swelling, and stiffness of the joints
  • Joints are typically affected in a symmetrical pattern (both hands and feet are affected simultaneously)
  • Joint pain and stiffness are worse in the morning or after a long period of rest

Additional symptoms of RA may include:

How is rheumatoid arthritis diagnosed?

Unfortunately, there is no single test to diagnose rheumatoid arthritis (RA) in its early stages. A healthcare provider will examine the affected joint and may recommend certain tests:

  • Blood tests: To check for
  • Physical examination: To look for
    • Noticeable swelling
    • Redness and warmth
    • Reduced range of motion
    • Pain
    • Joint instability
  • Imaging techniques: An X-ray of the affected joint may show
    • Bone spurs
    • Worn-down cartilage
    • Loss of joint space
  • Other tests: An MRI or a CT scan may be required to determine the condition of the bone and soft tissues of the affected joint

How is rheumatoid arthritis with GI issues treated?

The treatment of gastrointestinal complications of rheumatoid arthritis depends on the cause of the complications.

What are the other potential complications of rheumatoid arthritis?

Other potential complications of rheumatoid arthritis include:

  • Osteoporosis
  • Rheumatoid nodules (tiny firm bumps that develop around the pressure areas)
  • Dry eyes and mouth (a disorder characterized by a decrease in the amount of moisture in the eyes and mouth)
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome (compression of the median nerve leading to numbness and tingling pain in the hand and forearm)
  • Heart problems
  • Lung disease
  • Lymphoma (cancer in the lymph system)
  • Felty’s syndrome (a triad of splenomegaly, neutropenia, and arthritis)
Medically Reviewed on 10/21/2022
Image Source: iStock image

RA and Gastrointestinal Problems Arthritis Foundation:,problem%20than%20people%20without%20RA.

Rheumatoid Arthritis and GI Problems: What You Need to Know Creaky Joints:

RA and Inflammatory Bowel Disease: What's the Link? WebMD:

Gastrointestinal and Hepatic Disease in Rheumatoid Arthritis NIH: