Rheumatoid cachexia: a clinical perspective

Rheumatology (Oxford). 2008 Aug;47(8):1124-31. doi: 10.1093/rheumatology/ken146. Epub 2008 Apr 30.


Rheumatoid cachexia is under-recognized in clinical practice. The loss of lean body tissue, which characterizes cachexia, is often compensated for by gain in body fat-so called 'cachectic obesity'-so that 85% or more RA patients have a normal BMI. Severe cachexia with loss of weight leads to increased morbidity and premature mortality but loss of muscle bulk with a normal BMI also associates with poor clinical outcomes. Increasing BMI, even into the obese range, is associated with less joint damage and reduced mortality. Measurement of body composition using DXA and other techniques is feasible but the results must be interpreted with care. Newer techniques such as whole-body MRI will help define with more confidence the mass and distribution of fat and muscle and help elucidate the relationships between body composition and outcomes. Cachexia shows little response to diet alone but progressive resistance training and anti-TNF therapies show promise in tackling this potentially disabling extra-articular feature of RA.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anthropometry / methods
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / complications*
  • Arthritis, Rheumatoid / physiopathology
  • Body Composition
  • Body Weight
  • Cachexia / diagnosis
  • Cachexia / etiology*
  • Cachexia / therapy
  • Humans