What is an autoimmune disease? A healthy immune system protects the body by attacking what causes rheumatoid arthritis bacteria and viruses. However, in cases where an autoimmune disease exists, the body mistakenly attacks healthy tissue instead.
With RA specifically, the healthy tissue attacked is related to the joints, which are designed to absorb shock and allow smooth movement between bones. 5 million people in the United States have rheumatoid arthritis. The ends of your bones are covered by elastic tissue called cartilage, which is there to support and protect the joints during movements. Underneath the caps is tissue called synovium, also known as the synovial membrane. The synovium produces synovial fluid, a substance that acts as a lubricant and provides nourishment to the cartilage. In people with RA, white blood cells create inflammation in the synovium. This causes the tissue that lines the walls of the joints to thicken and become swollen and painful when moved.
The uncontrollable joint inflammation can also lead to joint erosion, a loss of motion, and joint damage to many associated parts of the body. In other words, people with rheumatoid arthritis will likely experience worsening pain and stiffness, especially if this particular inflammatory arthritis isn’t treated with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications or other standard treatment protocol. Over time, the affected synovium destroys the cartilage and bone within joints. This breakdown of essential functions is what leads to the pain commonly associated with RA. For this reason, it’s necessary to realize that RA often begins in middle age and nearly 3 times as many women have the condition as men. Overall, RA is a slowly progressing disease, but once damage is done it cannot be reversed. Therefore, doctors recommend treatment of rheumatoid arthritis beginning immediately after diagnosis to slow down the effects.
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder, meaning it is caused by an anomaly in the immune system. However, doctors are not sure what causes the immune system to attack its own tissues. That being said, they have identified what could be contributing factors. There are certain genes that may play a small role in the development of RA, although not directly. Specifically, researchers have identified a few genetic markers that are known to control immune responses.
They have found that people who have one gene in particular, HLA, could be 5 times more likely to get RA than people without this gene. However, not everyone with rheumatoid arthritis has the HLA gene and not everyone with the gene has rheumatoid arthritis. RA, but might make patients more vulnerable to its development. There are several environmental factors that, when combined with a genetic predisposition, put people at a greater risk of developing RA. Both men and women are susceptible to RA, but the disease is far more common in women.