When most people hear the term “arthritis,” they probably think of the degenerative disease that affects the joints, causing pain and stiffness. However, one type of arthritis, called rheumatoid arthritis (RA), can actually cause complications in other parts of the body as well. For example, studies suggest that patients with RA have an increased risk of developing kidney disease. If you are someone with RA, here are some things you need to know. Inflammation may be the link between rheumatoid arthritis and kidney disease. Your immune system helps protect your body from things that can make you sick like viruses and bacteria. One of the ways it does this is through the process of inflammation, where your immune cells try and destroy the harmful intruders. Yet sometimes, your immune system can accidentally attack your healthy cells, and if this persists, you can develop an autoimmune disease. RA is an example of an autoimmune disease. In this case, your immune system attacks the tissues around your joints. The inflammation will lead to symptoms such as: Red, tender and swollen joints Pain Fever Fatigue With RA, it appears the inflammation may also affect other areas of the body, including the blood vessels leading to the kidneys. This decreases the ability of your kidneys to function properly, and kidney disease can result. RA medications can affect the kidneys. Additionally, some medications that are used to treat RA can be tough on your kidneys, especially if they are already compromised. Some common ones include: Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS) like ibuprofen and naproxen are often used to reduce the inflammation associated with RA. However, they also decrease the amount of blood flow to the kidneys. This can result in further kidney dysfunction. Corticosteroids, like prednisone, are also used to relieve inflammation and pain. Corticosteroids may also increase your blood pressure, which puts additional stress on the kidneys. Disease -modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) are commonly used to slow the progression of RA. However, certain DMARDs have the potential to cause kidney damage. Cyclosporine and methotrexate are two examples. Careful monitoring can help avoid complications from rheumatoid arthritis. There are things you and your doctor can do to minimize the risk of developing kidney disease as a complication of RA . Make sure to keep all scheduled doctor’s appointments and undergo any blood or urine screening tests your doctor recommends. This allows your doctor to not only monitor the status of your RA but quickly recognize if there are any changes in your kidneys. In some cases, your doctor may need to lower the dose of one of your medications or try a new one. Certain lifestyle changes can help too. Try to maintain a healthy blood pressure. Drink lots of fluids, and eat a diet low in salt. Quit smoking. All of these things can favorably impact your RA and your kidneys. Lastly, make sure you are able to recognize the symptoms of kidney disease. Notify your doctor if you notice the following: Nausea or vomiting Changes in urination Swelling in the lower extremities or around the eyes Shortness of breath Itchy skin Muscle cramps Keeping your RA well-managed is the best thing you can do to minimize its effect on other areas of your body, like your kidneys. Your doctor is a great source of information to help you achieve this goal.