Comorbid Conditions and Pain
People with arthritis often have other medical conditions as well. When two diseases occur together, they are called comorbidities. Some of these conditions may also cause pain, making a good pain management plan even more important. Conditions that may be more common in people with arthritis include:
Heart disease. People with inflammatory forms of arthritis are up to twice as likely to develop heart and blood vessel (cardiovascular) disease than people without inflammatory arthritis. Inflammation can narrow the blood vessels, making it more difficult for blood to reach the heart. When the heart muscle doesn’t get enough oxygen-rich blood, you can have chest pain, called angina.
In men, angina may feel like something is pressing on or squeezing their chest or arms. Women are more likely to feel sharp pain in the chest. They may also have pain in their back, abdomen, neck, jaw or throat. For men, the pain tends to get worse when they are up and active, while women may have pain while resting. For both men and women, pain may become worse or more frequent as heart disease progresses.
Diabetic neuropathy. People with inflammatory forms of arthritis are about one and a half times more likely to have diabetes than those without arthritis. About 60–70% of people with diabetes have some form of neuropathy, or nerve damage. The most common type is peripheral neuropathy. Symptoms – including numbness, tingling, burning and cramping – often start in the legs and feet and then affect the hands and arms. Symptoms may be worse at night.
Osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is a condition in which old bone breaks down faster than new bone can be built. This causes bones to become brittle and break easily. People with inflammatory arthritis have a greater risk of osteoporosis because of inflammation and some of the drugs used to treat it. While osteoporosis itself does not cause symptoms, bone fractures that occur because of it can be quite painful.
Lung disease. Several conditions of the lungs, including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), are more common in people with RA than in the general population. COPD refers to a pair of conditions – emphysema and chronic bronchitis – that reduce the flow of air into and out of the lungs. Although COPD doesn’t cause pain directly, people with the condition may experience chest pain due to pressure in the lungs or bouts of coughing that can stress chest muscles or may even break a rib. Also, struggling to breathe can cause anxiety, which may intensify pain elsewhere in the body.