Throat Disorders in Rheumatoid Arthritis: Types, Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments

Chief Medical Director at SANESolution | Website

Dr. Matthew Olesiak continues to make a significant impact in the medical field through his work at SANESolution and his dedication to evidence-based practices.

Throat Disorders in Rheumatoid Arthritis

What comes to mind when you think of arthritis? Do you imagine joint pain, joint deformities, and limited mobility in the affected joints? It’s likely that you do. However, did you know that rheumatoid arthritis, a specific type of joint disease, can also impact throat health?

Throat disorders in Rheumatoid Arthritis Explored

In this Throat Cleaner and Throat Health blog post, we will explore the three most common types of arthritis and their causes, symptoms, and complications. Then, we will delve into the intriguing world of throat disorders in rheumatoid arthritis and the most common treatments for them. If you want to learn more about your throat health then we suggest you check out our 7 Menopause Throat and Mouth Symptoms: Reasons and Prevention Strategies and Menopause and Throat Health: Understanding the Connection guides next!

Short Summary

  • Arthritis is a prevalent condition that affects the joints, and in the case of rheumatoid arthritis, it may also affect other organs and tissues, including the throat. When RA manifests with laryngeal symptoms, specific treatments, such as speech therapy and surgery, may be required.
  • To prevent and treat all types of arthritis, it is vital to maintain a healthy diet, including whole and anti-inflammatory foods, maintain a healthy weight, exercise regularly, and take appropriate supplements, such as fish oil and throat cleaner.
  • If you experience any symptoms of arthritis, it’s crucial to see your doctor for a diagnosis and to discuss treatment options.

What is arthritis?

Arthritis is a joint disease that causes swelling and tenderness in one or more joints. Arthritis may start with minor pain and limited joint mobility, but it is a progressive condition that worsens over time and can eventually lead to disability. In fact, it is the primary reason for work disability in the United States. (1) An estimated 58.5 million Americans (24% of adults) have arthritis. (2)

Arthritis Symptoms

The symptoms of arthritis vary depending on the type of arthritis and may include:

  • Pain and stiffness in joints, typically in the hands, knees, or hips
  • Redness of the joints that can be warm to the touch
  • Limited mobility

An image of a woman with rheumatoid arthritis holding her leg in pain.

Types of Arthritis

There are three main types of arthritis: Osteoarthritis, Psoriatic arthritis, and Rheumatoid arthritis. Let’s take a closer look at each type.


Did you know that Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most widespread form of arthritis in the United States, impacting more than 32.5 million adults? (4). OA causes the breakdown of cartilage in the joints, which leads to bone damage. In addition to the bones, OA also impacts the tendons and ligaments in the joint. Tendons connect muscles to bones, while ligaments hold two bones together.

Symptoms of Osteoarthritis

The most common symptoms of OA include:

  • Joint pain
  • Joint stiffness
  • Limited range of motion
  • Aching joints

An infographic with graphical illustrations of rheumatoid arthritis statistics, risk factors, management, and complications with explanatory text described below. Explanatory Text Osteoarthritis Approximately 30% of the population (ages 45 to 65) worldwide is affected by osteoarthritis. 80% of the population will have evidence of osteoarthritis by age 65. Signs and symptoms Joint pain, increased pain with cold temperatures, and hard bony enlargements in smaller joints Management Weight loss, exercise, medication, and surgery Risk Age, heredity, obesity, hormones, infections, diabetes mellitus, and mechanic injury End Explanatory Text

Complications of Osteoarthritis

Complications of osteoporosis include:

  • Increased mobility issues due to the nature of this disease
  • Reduced productivity at work and at home due to chronic joint pain
  • Depression and anxiety due to OA joint pain
  • Weight gain due to inactivity caused by painful, stiff joints

Causes of Osteoarthritis

  • Overuse of the joint. This is the most common cause of OA, and for that reason, it is the most common joint disorder in older athletes.
  • Age. OA is more prevalent in older people, probably due to the repetitive use and stress placed on certain joints in their younger years. According to recent statistics, around 70% of those over 60 have X-ray evidence of this condition. (5)
  • Obesity. Being overweight places extra stress on joints, particularly those of the knees and hips, leading to OA in those joints.
  • Gender. Women are more likely to experience OA than men.

Natural Treatment Options for OA

When it comes to reducing inflammation and pain caused by osteoarthritis (OA), some individuals rely on nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as Ibuprofen. If the arthritis is severe, surgical joint replacement may be necessary. However, there are also natural alternatives that have been proven to be effective for minor arthritic symptoms or as preventative measures. The following subheadings will discuss a few of the most effective methods for naturally easing OA pain and stiffness while also enhancing mobility.

Get Regular Exercise

Did you know that exercise is one of the best natural treatments for OA? It’s true! According to the Arthritis Foundation, “Exercise is considered the most effective, non-drug treatment for reducing pain and improving movement in patients with osteoarthritis.” (6) Research shows that staying physically active is one of the best ways to relieve OA pain and stiffness. Exercise lubricates the joints, improves joint range of motion, and strengthens muscles to support the joints. The best exercises for OA include walking, bicycling, and swimming. In addition, performing regular stretching exercises can help improve joint flexibility and range of motion. 

Maintain a Healthy Weight

Being of moderate weight is essential for managing the pain and stiffness of OA. If you are overweight, shedding some pounds will help reduce the pain and improve your range of motion. To lose weight, try to switch to a predominately whole-food diet, eating a significant amount of nonstarchy vegetables and foods that contain omega-3 fatty acids, such as oily fish and flaxseeds. Research suggests that omega-3 fatty acids reduce inflammation, relieving arthritis pain. (7) You must also significantly reduce or eliminate foods that promote inflammation, such as ultra-processed foods, processed meats, starchy carbohydrates, and sugars.

Apply Hot or Cold Compresses

Both hot and cold therapy can reduce inflammation, thus better relieving OA pain and stiffness. The next time your arthritis flares up, try applying a hot or cold compress to the affected area for 15 to 20 minutes several times a day. You may be surprised at how effective it is at managing your arthritis symptoms. Which one is best for arthritis—heat or cold? Each of these methods offers different benefits. Cold therapy can reduce swelling and numb the affected area, while heat therapy can loosen up muscles, increase flexibility, and improve circulation. For acute injuries like pulled muscles or injured tendons, it’s recommended to begin with ice to reduce inflammation and pain. Once the inflammation has subsided, heat can be used to alleviate stiffness. For chronic pain conditions like osteoarthritis, heat therapy is typically more effective. However, some people may find that cold therapy also helps to alleviate pain. Ultimately, the best course of action is to try both methods and see which works best for you. 

Take Appropriate Supplements

Though not recommended as a sole treatment for OA, glucosamine and chondroitin may help relieve symptoms, especially when taken together. (Glucosamine and chondroitin are natural compounds found in cartilage.) Various studies indicate that taking glucosamine and chondroitin together for several weeks may improve the range of motion and reduce joint pain. (8, 9)

Psoriatic Arthritis

Psoriatic arthritis is a chronic autoimmune condition of the skin and joints that affects some people with psoriasis, which is a chronic condition that causes red, itchy, scaly patches of skin, usually on the knees, elbows, trunk, and scalp. Research shows that around 30% of those with psoriasis will also develop psoriatic arthritis, translating into an estimated 2.25 million Americans. (14, 15) More than eight million people in the U.S.—125 million worldwide—have psoriatic arthritis. (16)

Symptoms of Psoriatic Arthritis

Common symptoms include:

  • Scaly red patches of skin
  • Painful or achy joints
  • Joint stiffness

The severity of these symptoms can range from mild to severe. In addition, those with psoriatic arthritis typically experience symptom flareups alternating with periods of remission.

Complications of Psoriatic Arthritis

Untreated psoriatic arthritis can lead to several complications, including:

  • Physical disability due to progressively deformed bones
  • Increased risk of cardiovascular disease, pink eye (conjunctivitis), uveitis (swelling of the colored portion of the eyes), or other eye infections
  • Developing severe inflammation that permanently damages joints in your hands and feet, leading to the inability to use them, resulting in disability, is a condition called arthritis mutilans. Fortunately, this complication is extremely rare.

Causes of Psoriatic Arthritis

The exact cause is unknown. Risk factors include:

  • Psoriasis
  • Family history
  • Genetics
  • Bacterial/viral infections

Natural Treatment Options for Psoriatic Arthritis

Several natural treatments may help ease your symptoms.

Epsom Salt

Epsom salt (magnesium sulfate) is a miracle treatment for just about everything that ails you. It is a common treatment for muscle cramps, constipation, and indigestion. It may also reduce the pain and inflammation of psoriatic arthritis. Studies indicate that Epsom salt can alleviate the discomfort and irritation caused by psoriatic skin lesions. To ease muscle and joint pain as well as inflammation, try taking a warm bath with Epsom salt. Alternatively, you can apply compression to the affected area.

Fish Oil Supplements

Fish oil contains omega-3 fatty acids, compounds with potent anti-inflammatory properties that could ease the pain and discomfort of this type of arthritis. A study published in the Scandinavian Journal of Rheumatology (2018) showed that those with psoriatic arthritis were able to significantly reduce their use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) when taking 3 grams of polyunsaturated fatty acids, aka omega-3s, per day for 24 weeks. (17) To reduce your arthritis symptoms, you can either take fish oil in supplement form or regularly include oily fish like salmon in your diet.


Like other types of arthritis, exercise can significantly improve the pain, stiffness, and range-of-motion issues that often accompany this condition. So, try to exercise regularly, emphasizing low-impact exercises as they are more gentle on joints. Examples include swimming, walking, tai chi, and yoga. Resistance training should also be a part of your exercise routine, as it strengthens the muscles that support joints. Talk to your healthcare provider before beginning any exercise routine.

Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis, or RA, is a serious inflammatory autoimmune disease that can cause painful swelling in various parts of the body. This condition commonly affects the joints, particularly those in the hands, wrists, and knees. When RA attacks a joint, it causes inflammation of the lining, which can lead to tissue damage, chronic pain, a lack of balance, and even joint deformity. Additionally, RA can affect other tissues and organs in the body, causing further health problems. such as the lungs, heart, and eyes. An estimated 1.3 million adults in the U.S. suffer from RA (10) An infographic with graphical illustrations of rheumatoid arthritis statistics, risk factors, management, and complications with explanatory text described below. Infographic Text:  Rheumatoid Arthritis What is Rheumatoid Arthritis? Eight percent of RA patients are between the ages of 35 and 50. Women are three times more likely to develop RA than men. Management: Vaccination, Exercise, Surgery, Dietary supplements, Antiheumatic drugs, stopping smoking, and limiting alcohol. Risk Factors: Heredity, Age, Lifestyle, and Pollution Complications: Heart Attack, stroke Seventy percent of RA patients have wrist and hand problems. Ninety percent of RA patients have symptoms in the foot. End Infographic Text

Symptoms of RA

With rheumatoid arthritis, symptoms tend to worsen during the active disease period known as “flares” but may also improve during times of “remission.” Additionally, this condition usually affects several joints. Symptoms include:

  • Swelling and tenderness in joints
  • Stiff joints
  • Rheumatoid nodules (hard lumps that develop under the skin, typically near the affected joint)
  • Pain or aching in joints
  • The same joints affected on both sides of the body
  • Fever
  • Weight loss
  • Weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Lung inflammation
  • Throat issues (laryngeal rheumatoid arthritis) We will cover the potential symptoms in the next section.

Complications of RA

RA can have severe complications, including:

  • Osteoporosis. RA has been shown to increase the risk of developing osteoporosis, a disease characterized by weak and brittle bones. In addition, some medications used to treat RA can increase the risk of osteoporosis.
  • Heart disease. People with rheumatoid arthritis may have a higher risk of developing blocked and hardened arteries and inflammation of the sac surrounding the heart.
  • Carpal tunnel. When rheumatoid arthritis impacts your wrist, it can cause inflammation that may put pressure on the nerve responsible for controlling most of your hands and fingers.
  • Lung disease. Individuals who suffer from rheumatoid arthritis are at a higher risk of developing inflammation and scarring in their lung tissues, which can result in gradual difficulty breathing.

Causes of RA

Like other autoimmune diseases, the exact cause of RA is unknown. However, researchers have identified several risk factors, including:

  • Genetics. A family history of RA increases your chances of developing this disease.
  • Hormones. It has been observed that females are three times more susceptible to developing RA than males, leading researchers to suggest that female hormones may be a contributing factor. It should also be noted that women are generally more prone to autoimmune diseases than men.
  • Lifestyle. Smoking, obesity, poor health, etc., may increase the risk of RA.
  • Environment. Exposure to chemicals and other toxins in food and the environment may be a contributing cause of RA.

  An image of female feet standing on w bathroom scale with a tape measure on the floor.

Natural Treatment Options for RA

Though there is no cure for RA, you can manage the symptoms with natural remedies.


Massage has been shown to reduce pain in many body areas, including the joints. There have even been studies conducted that specifically address RA. The results? Research suggests that moderate-pressure massage can relieve the pain and stiffness of RA and that even light-pressure massage can increase the range of motion in affected joints. (11, 12)


Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese practice that uses fine needles inserted into the body called meridians to free blocked energy, resulting in pain reduction. Though few studies specifically address acupuncture for RA, there is scientific evidence that it may regulate immune function and reduce chronic pain in general. For example, research indicates that acupuncture has an anti-inflammatory effect and may stimulate the activity of pain-relieving chemicals in the body. (13)


Like other forms of arthritis, exercise may reduce the pain and stiffness of RA. Please speak with your doctor before beginning any exercise program. Your doctor may send you to a physical therapist to create a specialized exercise plan for your RA, which will likely include a combination of aerobics, strength training, and range-of-motion exercises.

Laryngeal Rheumatoid Arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis can impact the joints, bodily organs, and even the voice box (larynx), a condition known as laryngeal rheumatoid arthritis. It’s important to note that the prevalence of laryngeal involvement in individuals with rheumatoid arthritis can vary, ranging from 13% to 75% (18).

How can RA impact throat health?

Laryngeal manifestations of RA are usually caused by damage to the following joints:

The cricoarytenoids are a pair of tiny joints located at the rear of the larynx, situated between the cricoid and arytenoid cartilages. These joints play a significant role in controlling the vocal cords during speech and breathing by facilitating their opening, closing, and tightening. If this area is affected, it is called cricoarytenoid arthritis. RA rarely involves this joint, but it does happen.

The temporomandibular joints (TMJ) function as sliding hinges that connect your jawbone to your skull. You have one joint on either side of your jaw.

The cricothyroid joint, also known as the CTJ, connects the thyroid cartilage to the cricoid cartilage. It is responsible for controlling the tension of the vocal cords, which is crucial in regulating the pitch of the human voice. So, cricothyroid joint abnormalities in RA can make speech difficult. 

Laryngeal Symptoms (Autoimmune Diseases in RA)

Laryngeal rheumatoid arthritis may include the following symptoms, many of which may be caused by rheumatoid nodules on the vocal cords:

  • Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia)
  • Sore throat
  • A sensation of something stuck in your throat or a lump in your throat
  • Painful swallowing (Odynophagia)
  • Vocal weakness
  • Hoarseness (dysphonia)
  • Vocal fatigue
  • Earache
  • Cough
  • Croup (rare)
  • Respiratory issues include shortness of breath (dyspnea), a high-pitched sound while breathing (stridor), reduced exercise tolerance, and respiratory distress.

Complications of Laryngeal Involvement in RA

Complications in laryngeal rheumatoid arthritis may include:

  • Recurrent laryngeal nerve paralysis, also called vocal fold paralysis or vocal cord paresis, Vocal cord paralysis is a condition that affects the muscles responsible for controlling your voice. It occurs when the nerves that send impulses to your voice box (larynx) are disrupted, leading to the paralysis of the vocal cord muscles. This can make it challenging to speak or breathe.
  • Acute laryngeal obstruction due to fixation of the vocal cords in an area that creates upper airway obstruction, which can be life-threatening.

It’s important to note that rheumatoid arthritis patients with laryngeal involvement may be asymptomatic in the early stages, or there may be minimal airway symptoms or vocal issues. Therefore, it is essential for patients with RA to see their rheumatologist and other healthcare providers for regular checkups before it advances to severe complications.

Treating Laryngeal Arthritis

To address the effects of rheumatoid arthritis on the larynx, medical professionals may suggest the use of steroids or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to prevent nodules or fibrosis from forming. Steroids can be administered either through a local injection into the joint or systemically. In cases of bamboo nodes or vocal fold lesions, surgical removal may be necessary. Initially, conservative treatment may involve speech therapy. However, if the vocal quality remains impaired even after speech therapy, a steroid injection or surgical intervention may be recommended. In situations where both vocal folds are fixed in the midline, a tracheotomy (either temporary or permanent) may be necessary to relieve airway obstruction. In addition, practicing the natural treatment options in the rheumatoid arthritis section above will also help you manage your condition.


Arthritis is a common condition that causes swelling and tenderness in one or more joints. The most common symptoms of arthritis are joint pain and stiffness, which typically worsen with age. There are three main types of arthritis: osteoarthritis, psoriatic arthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that causes joint inflammation and pain. It occurs when the immune system attacks the lining of the joints, called the synovium. This disease usually affects multiple joints, commonly the same joint on both sides of the body, such as both hands or both knees. However, rheumatoid arthritis can also cause problems in other parts of the body, such as the eyes, heart, circulatory system, lungs, and throat.

Laryngeal involvement in rheumatoid arthritis patients can range from 13% to 75%. Symptoms may include difficulty swallowing, vocal hoarseness, vocal fatigue, and respiratory issues. Laryngeal rheumatoid arthritis patients can be treated with steroids or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). In some cases, surgery may be necessary to relieve airway obstruction or remove vocal fold nodules.

Voice therapy is also often included in the treatment plan, as it helps strengthen the voice. Natural treatments for all types of arthritis include massage therapy, acupuncture, and regular exercise. It is crucial to seek medical attention if you experience any symptoms of arthritis, especially rheumatoid arthritis, as early diagnosis can help prevent serious complications.

What Are the Similarities and Differences Between Tonsillitis and Throat Disorders in Rheumatoid Arthritis?

Tonsillitis symptoms causes diagnosis treatment often resemble throat disorders in rheumatoid arthritis. Both conditions can cause throat pain, difficulty swallowing, and enlarged lymph nodes. However, while tonsillitis is typically caused by a bacterial or viral infection, throat disorders in rheumatoid arthritis are a result of the body’s immune system attacking healthy tissues. Accurate diagnosis is crucial to determine the appropriate treatment, which may include antibiotics for tonsillitis or immunosuppressant medications for rheumatoid arthritis-related throat disorders.

Frequently Asked Questions

What are the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis in the throat?

RA in the throat can include a variety of symptoms, including vocal hoarseness, a sore throat, swallowing difficulties, the sensation of a lump or a foreign object in your throat, respiratory issues, a cough, and vocal fatigue.

Can rheumatoid arthritis cause inflammation in the throat?

Yes. Patients with rheumatoid arthritis may experience hoarseness due to inflammation of the cricoarytenoid joints. These joints are located near the vocal cords and assist in their opening and closing during speech and breathing. Swallowing difficulties may also be present along with hoarseness.

What does arthritis in the throat feel like?

Sometimes you may feel like there is an obstruction in your throat, which can cause discomfort while swallowing or talking. You may also have a persistent cough and difficulty breathing. Additionally, you may hear a harsh, high-pitched noise with every breath.

What is a rheumatoid nodule in the throat?

Rheumatoid nodules, also called “bamboo nodes,” are white, fibrous nodules found beneath the mucus membrane on the vocal cords.

Does rheumatoid arthritis affect the vocal cords?

Yes, it can affect the vocal cords. In the event that it happens, some symptoms that may arise include a sensation of tightness or fullness in the throat, vocal hoarseness, discomfort while swallowing and/or speaking, painful coughs, and breathing difficulties caused by paralysis of the vocal cords on both sides. These symptoms vary in intensity.


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Chief Medical Director at SANESolution | Website

Dr. Matthew Olesiak continues to make a significant impact in the medical field through his work at SANESolution and his dedication to evidence-based practices.