Rheumatoid arthritis and the voice (cricoarytenoid arthritis)


I love to sing.  It is one of the ways that I relieve the stress…I grab my ipod, plug it into the stereo and turn it up loud.  Right now it’s usually Pink, or something way daggier, like some 80s favourites…and I sing along to my heart’s content.  It’s an emotional release, it lets off steam, it makes me feel happy!

In my younger years I was a singer in a band.  It was the thing I loved above all else…in my pre-children days.  Singing was the one thing that I was actually better at than most people.  A natural talent.

An interesting thing I learned when I visited the Pain Clinic is that the cause of my hoarse voice is very likely Rheumatoid Arthritis.  The doctor asked me about my hoarseness, and explained this was most likely rheumatoid arthritis affecting my cricoarytenoid joint.

Rheumatoid arthritis can affect the voice?  Apparently so.

A quick google turned up a few interesting articles.  It’s called cricoarytenoid arthritis.  There’s a post on rheumatoid Arthritis Warrior about it. http://rawarrior.com/cricoarytenoid-arthritis-in-rheumatoid-arthritis-part-1/

And what is exactly is the Cricoarytenoid Joint?  The cricoarytenoid joints are located between the cricoid and arytenoid cartilages in the back wall of the larynx. The cricoarytenoid joints help open, close, and tighten the vocal cords during speech and breathing.

Turns out that around 35% of people who suffer from Rheumatoid Arthritis suffer from hoarseness, which is the most common symptom of cricoarytenoid involvement.

The full list of symptoms includes:

  • Hoarseness
  • Difficulty swallowing, and/or pain when swallowing
  • The feeling of having something stuck in your throat
  • Pain when talking
  • Intermittent or complete loss of voice
  • Shortness of breath
  • Feeling like you are choking.


Most frightening is the sensation that you are choking, and can’t breathe properly.  It’s a horrible feeling, and I’ve had it for years.  I just never realised that it is also one of the joys of Rheumatoid Arthritis.

I discussed it with my new Rheumy and she suggested a Barium swallow. Oh joy!  Another pleasant sounding procedure.  Happy Christmas!  She felt the choking sensation was likely due to arthritis, but she thinks it’s best to be sure.  I agree.  I guess.

I never mentioned it before, because I always had bigger things to worry about.  I never even thought about it that much.  An attack would happen, and then by the time I saw my doctor, I had forgotten about it.

It pales in comparison to not being able to walk.

At any rate, there is no extra treatment required, unless it is very severe.  In that instance, steroids can be injected directly into the cricoarytenoid  joint.

It sounds like a very unimportant symptom, or rather, complication of Rheumatoid Arthritis.  It sounds like it wouldn’t make a big difference to your life at all.

Except maybe if you are a singer.


  1. We call it my ‘Mr. Haney’ voice. After the Mr. Haney that was on the show Green Acres…I know, I know I am old and all you younguns don’t know anything about him.

    • Thanks C…I must admit, I do hope it is RA-related. That’s the thing about RA…if its *worse* than RA, you’re getting into some pretty nasty stuff…

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  2. I found out about this several years ago after a prolonged bout of suspected laryngitis and severe loss of voice. I also had the whole camera down the throat thing, fun NOT!! The ENT couldn’t find anything and obviously had no knowledge of this element of RA. It was only after further bouts of voice loss that I found an article that explained what was going on. My voice has also changed since that initial bad bout and I can no longer get those higher notes. I still often go croaky and lose my voice out of the blue, but I’m very thankful that I’ve not experienced the other more frightening aspects of this. Don’t you just love how much variety we get??! No me either!! I hope that the tests show nothing more than the RA & I am really sorry about your voice.

    • Thank you Gillian. I am learning that this is much more common than rheumies would have you believe! I feel for you with no longer being able to reach the high notes…it does take the enjoyment out of singing, when you no longer have that range. Nor the tonal quality you once had. My voice also just ‘drops out’ mid sentence..do you get that too? I guess its just an annoyance…but yes, its just another thing to manage in the variety bag of RA 🙂

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      • I just found out that RA can cause this! I’ve always loved singing, but now I can’t sing soprano and my voice just drops out like you said… yet another depressing symptom of the disease. Thanks for your info!

  3. I am 29 and was diagnosed with RA when I was 25. Reading this blog about the joint in your throat just opened my eyes a bit to confirm what I kept saying, that RA is the cause of my throat issues. I am hoarse all the time and I love to sing, was in choir and wanted to be a singer when I was a little girl but now I have a hard time singing. My throat often gets so swollen that I can hardly breathe and I get lightheaded because of it almost to the point of feeling like I’m going to pass out. I have been to the ENT doctor and had a camera down my nose into my throat 5 times, I have had a biopsy of tissue in my throat, and a CT scan of my neck and they all came back negative and fine. My doctors keep saying “If you were anyone else they would be in the ER right now with how severely swollen your throat is” and “you are actually going to work and functioning normal every day?” I have had two ENT doctors say those things to me and it makes me kind of nervous. Also, I began to stop breathing while sleeping a couple years ago so I had to have sleep apnea tests done and they said I had it so now I have to sleep with an oxygen mask on which really sucks and the worst part is that my doctors don’t get that the reason I have sleep apnea is because of RA and how swollen my throat is, not the normal reason people have sleep apnea where a flap of skin doesn’t open all the way. The problem is that doctors specializing in other practices don’t understand RA and what effects it can have on different parts of your body. It’s so frustrating! In my opinion having my throat, voice and breathing messed up is so much harder than the other joints of my body being in pain all the time. I would give anything to have my throat back to normal before RA 🙁

    • I’m so sorry, Megan. You are suffering very badly…and I can understand your frustration! From what I’ve read they could try injecting cortisone directly into the joint in severe cases such are yours…I know it sounds horrible, but it would be worth it if it gave you some relief? When do you see your rheumy next? Maybe worth asking about? I agree, its an incredibly under-rated symptom – but it has a huge impact on your life. I had a barium swallow the other day because mine is getting worse. I will write a post about that, and also what my rheumy says about it when I see her next. I hope you get some relief soon.

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  4. […] I’m not a happy camper!Child Constipation 9July is Juvenitle Arthritis Awareness MonthRheumatoid arthritis and the voice (cricoarytenoid arthritis) .recentcomments a{display:inline !important;padding:0 !important;margin:0 […]

  5. Thanks for the info. I recently read RAWarrior’s article about this and it was very timely asi had laryngitis for no apparent reason and now two weeks later still have pain when swallowing and that weirded paralyzed feeling that makes me unable to breathe for a second. I’d been having intermittent ear pain for th e last few years as well, all of which I atributted to allergies. I’m 38 and have had RA for a little more than 21 years, goes to show you can always learn something new!

    • Ah yes Kelli…always more exciting things to learn about RA…21 years! I bet I could learn a thing or two from you. I hope you’re feeling better now…mine comes and goes. Hope yours GOES! lol

  6. My name is Meredith Hatten. I was diagnosed with JRA when I was a year old. It has always been a struggle for me, but by the grace of God I am still here. I just had a Total knee replacement back in November and now I am experiencing severe hoarseness and it is affecting my singing voice, I have been singing since i was a lil girl and it has always been a passion of mine, it is painful now that i cant sing, but now i play piano, which with my RA hands is difficult, they are deformed, but i wont let it stop me. I am married with 3 kids and iam living life day by day, but i know there are others like me. i have hope that we will overcome with strength and grace that we arthritis chicks have that only we can explain, God bless you out there you are my sisters! I love you all!

    • Bless you too Meredith! You have had RA as long as you can remember! wonderful that you play the piano…I’m sure that’s painful too. But music gives us so much pleasure, its worth the pain. I can still play guitar some days…and while my hands won’t move they way they used to, I still love it. I hope your knee replacement was a complete success and you have less pain. At least in one joint 🙂

  7. Thank you for clearing this up! I have been wondering, for the last two and a half years, why my voice keeps disappearing and why the ENT could not figure out why. I am not a singer, but I am a university lecturer so you can imagine how this has negatively impacted my life. Thank you for clarifying the cause though, it does reduce the frustration.

  8. When I read this story I realized just how similar it was to my condition.

    Years ago, when my children were young, I developed rheumatoid arthritis. I became practically immobile and put on a lot of weight. Every move felt like torture and my knee joints suffered so much strain that I got osteoarthritis in my early forties.

    To make things worse, my husband left me for a “friskier” woman. After I got over my rage at my husband leaving, I realized that I had to do something drastic unless I wanted to be a cripple for the rest of my life.

    Fortunately, after searching far and wide, I came across some simple natural remedies that made my body feel better than I could remember. My joints loosened up and I had energy like I was running on rocket fuel.

    Most of what I did is detailed right here in this article:

    SPAM!!! PLEASE do not try to sell your exploitative diet programs here!

    Hope it helps anyone reading this!

  9. i get this, it drives me crazy, had a bad spell of it recentely and i was choking up lumps, i also can’t eat solid food, it mostly happens on a flare up and if i come of my infusion. so frustrated as hell i cut out dairy products, its only been a few days and the relief is so much better, i’m getting the colour in my face back too, i gave up gluten and wheat also about 2years ago and had good results with it. i was diagnosed rheumatoid arthritis when i was 7, now in my late thirties, i was lucky my specialist told me about the voice box, which i call my kermitt voice, i sing too or try and its so frustrating with that hoarseness. i hope you find some relief from it and can sing without the pain.


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