Rheumatoid Nodules: Definition, Causes and Treatment

X-Ray[1]The lumps which appear on your hand, knuckles or fingers may appear harmless to a majority of the people. For this reason, they remain unnoticed. But, do you know that they can create trouble if left untreated for a long time? The lumps you see may be rheumatoid nodules.

What is a rheumatoid nodule?

A rheumatoid nodule is a lump-like formation seen just beneath the skin. You may come across multiple lumps like this on your body. They form generally in connection with rheumatoid arthritis, a disease affecting one’s joints. Very rarely, they are seen in the linings of a person’s lungs.

Rheumatoid nodules vary in size and most of the time, they do not create any trouble. It is observed that up to five per cent of rheumatoid arthritis patients develop these lumps within two years of the disease. In some instances, these lumps become painful if the skin above it happens to break down. There are also reports of these lump-like formations appearing scattered all over the body like the upper eyelids and larynx.


As mentioned above, rheumatoid nodules form in association with rheumatoid arthritis. It is observed that up to 90 per cent of those suffering from arthritis are tested to be positive in RA factor. Studies show that patients tested RA positive are prone to suffer from more aggressive form of arthritis.

The habits like smoking too are proven to cause the formation of these nodules in patients suffering from RA. The drug Methotrexate, which is also used for this trouble may increase the size of these lumps.

Rheumatoid arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis, the root disease of the nodules mentioned above is a disease which affects one’s joints. In some rare instances it affects the other parts of the body.

The cause of this disease still remains a mystery to medical science. Some believe that smoking and genetics play a vital role in aggravating this disease. There are also doctors who argue that there are some bacteria capable of bringing RA. Still, no organism has been discovered with a clear connection to RA. One thing is sure; it is not caused by wear and tear of joints.

As it spreads, your immune system starts recognizing one particular kind of protein as foreign. Even the type of protein which it considers to be intruding too is unknown to the doctors. There may be several of them. Scientists feel that some proteins are produced due to certain infections and some may be due to genetic or other causes. Whatever may be the cause, the cells which respond to these proteins are known as lymphocytes. These cells trigger the production of cytokines. They are messengers asking for inflammation and destruction. The part of the body which gets affected mostly is the thin covering around the joints known as synovium. Gradually, the swelling spreads to the other parts of the body causing chronic pain, fatigue and similar difficulties.


Rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic disease. Its symptoms may fluctuate both in intensity and in frequency. It implies that RA may differ from person to person. For some, the symptoms remain inactive for quite a long time. For others, the troubles may remain mostly consistent.

This is a disease which affects the joints in the body. However, there are instances where it affects other organs. Following are the signs indicating that you are suffering from RA.

Inflammation in joints

Inflammation is the trouble which sets RA apart from the others. The difficulties you may experience include the following:

  • Stiffness: If you are suffering from RA, you would have a hard time trying to move your joints in the morning. It is true that patients of other forms of arthritis too would be experiencing this trouble. But, it would take at least one hour for RA sufferers to be able to move their joints.
  • Swelling: In these patients, fluid gets into their joints causing inflammation. The area becomes warm and tender when compared to the other parts of the body. It also causes joint pain.


RA affects mostly one’s hands. But, no joint is safe from this trouble.

 Symptoms affecting the entire body

Know that RA rarely affects any other part of the body than joints. If at all you face any other trouble, that happens because of the inflammation. Here are some of the trouble you may experience:

  • Tiredness
  • Feeling ill
  • Aching muscles
  • Loss of appetite


RA may affect even your lungs. But, it does not create any difficulty for a majority of patients. When it causes any damage or if the swelling spreads to lungs, you start experiencing shortness of breath. It can be treated with drugs designed for the purpose.

The inflammation due to RA can even affect the linings around your heart. This too causes no serious troubles most of the time.

The disease may even affect your eyes. But, this happens quite rarely. The symptoms may include redness, pain and dryness.

Diagnosis and treatment

Rheumatoid arthritis is a disease for which there is no permanent cure. The only thing physicians can do is to track the progress of its symptoms and slow it.

Diagnosis of RA still remains to be a tough job. The doctor has to differentiate it from other types of arthritis before beginning with the treatment. The examination is based on the seven criteria specified by the American Rheumatism Association.


You may have to give a detailed description of your symptoms, the extent of pain and your ability to move. Upon completing these queries, you would be sent for blood tests, x-ray and MRI. The blood tests inform the doctor of the indications of RA. X-ray and other tests help the physician determine the extent of the damage caused.

With the disease confirmed, the doctor designs a treatment approach tailored to your physical condition. Most of the time, care is given to minimize the sufferings caused by inflammation and the consequent destruction of joints. And, you have to continue the medications as long as you live.

It is true that there is no cure for this debilitating condition. But, things have changed a lot. Recent discoveries made in the field allow you to enjoy the quality of life you used to have even with this trouble. However, it is a must that you detect RA as early as possible. Consult your GP the moment you notice any of the symptoms mentioned above. There are hospitals equipped with early arthritis clinics with a view to ensure specialized treatment to the patients as fast as possible.

 Risk factors

RA is found mostly in women. Research shows that women who have never been pregnant or have given birth recently are easy victims of RA. It is also a hereditary disease. If there is an RA patient in your family, the chances of you being affected with this trouble is quite high. Experts also reveal that those who have leukocyte antigen in their body too are prone to RA when compared to those who don’t have this factor in them. Even smoking can aggravate the disease.

 Common types of arthritis

The first thing one should do when noticing the symptoms of RA is to differentiate it from similar diseases. Having an idea of the types of arthritis would go a long way in helping you in this direction.

There are more than 200 types of arthritis. They are generally classified into three; connective tissue diseases, inflammatory and non-inflammatory. Do a research online to get a rough idea. Go to the doctor, trust him/her and abide by the instructions given.

Rheumatoid nodules

The nodules which form on the pressure points on your body as a part of RA are generally harmless. But, there are instances where they may cause pain, ulceration and other discomforts. There are also reports of these lumps becoming infected and have to be removed with the help of a surgery.

The doctor may advise a change in the course of treatment and go for corticosteroid injections if the symptoms become severe and unbearable.


A search in your locality would come up with numerous support groups working to help those suffering from different types of arthritis. Internet too offers numerous platforms where you can express your concerns and doubts with this regard.

If you happen to notice lumps or other kinds of swellings on your hands, do not hesitate to consult your general practitioner. Negligence may cost you dearly. Even if you are someone not interested in medications, you have a number of options to experiment with. But, make sure that you are suffering from RA and not from any others of the kind. Remember, early detection is the key to success. Complete victory may evade you. But, knowing in advance would help you stay safe from debilitating pain and other sufferings. The medications may ask you to regulate your diet and lifestyle. But, your body would thank you for the efforts made!