A doctor speaking with a patient at his desk.


Key facts

  • Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease. ILD can occur in patients with rheumatoid arthritis, which means that the lungs might become scarred, resulting in shortness of breath
  • When looking for the correct diagnosis, your healthcare team may perform several tests to get a good understanding of your lung health 
  • Rheumatoid arthritis with ILD might become progressive, and so your doctor, supported by a wider team of specialists, will work with you to monitor changes in your symptoms

Rheumatoid arthritis is a systemic autoimmune disease. Besides the joints, it also affects other parts of the body, including the lungs. 

Did you know

Rheumatoid arthritis is an “autoimmune” disease
“Auto” means self and “immune” means protection against. Together this means that the immune system acts against the person’s own body. 

Rheumatoid arthritis is a condition that affects about 1% of the population worldwide. Studies have observed that in people with rheumatoid arthritis, 10–20% also have interstitial lung disease (ILD). 

There are many different conditions associated with pulmonary fibrosis. Some are referred to as ILDs. ILDs with pulmonary fibrosis are a challenging group of diseases that affect the interstitium of the lung (the space between the air sacs in the lung) and lead to the formation of scar tissue.

In someone with rheumatoid arthritis with ILD, the lungs become scarred, thickened and stiff. This makes it harder for oxygen to enter the blood and results in shortness of breath. 

Quick Tip

Visit the conditions page to learn more about what an ILD is and how it is associated with pulmonary fibrosis.

Possible symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis with ILD

Symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis with ILD may include: 

Icon showing shortness of breathing.

Shortness of breath

Icon showing coughing.

Chronic dry cough

Fatigue and weakness

Fatigue and weakness

Chest discomfort or pain

Chest discomfort or pain

Icon of Loss of appetite

Loss of appetite

Rheumatoid arthritis with ILD can become progressive, which means that it might get worse over time. However, currently there is no way of predicting if, or how fast, this will happen. Some patients might not have changes in their symptoms, while other patients might experience a faster worsening of their symptoms. There are signs that can mean the disease has progressed, but your doctor, supported by a wider team of specialists, will work closely with you to monitor this. 

“Join a support group. If somebody puts out a hand for help, somebody will always hold it.” – Colin*

* Name has been changed for privacy.

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